Georgia’s 2014 pecans: smaller nuts, bigger price, growing market

From Southest Farm Press
By Brad Haire 
Southeast Farm Press

Georgia’s pecan crop this year looks to bring 70 million pounds to market. As harvest rolls on, small nut size has been a problem due to tough summer weather, but the weather did help the crop, too. Growers continue to get high prices, though, spurred by strong export demand, which the industry is working to maintain and grow.

Earlier in the fall, estimates had the crop closer to 85 million pounds, but that may prove to "be off  by a significant margin. It's now looking like 70 million pounds may be the new number. Some are saying even less. Once growers have gotten into the orchard the volume just doesn't seem to be there as was previously thought. Mostly as a result of small nuts and pollination conditions in the spring which limits the crop," said Lenny Wells, University of Georgia Extension pecan specialist. "Yields will be all over the board. Some orchards will have 200 pounds per acre; some will be good with 1,500 pounds or better per acre.”

Last year was a bad year for scab in Georgia, pecan’s No. 1 enemy. Some growers last year sprayed 15 to 20 times for the disease. Growers worried this year would be a repeat for scab damage due to the excessively wet conditions this spring and the abundant inoculant left over from last year. But by nut-development time in June and July, conditions dried off considerably and growers caught up with control. Scab was not as bad as the previous year.

The same summer dry period was double-edged, though. It played a part in why nut size is a problem for some orchards. The dry June-July came when pecan nuts start to develop, and water demand is the highest at this time and through August. Dryland orchards have little hope for developing large nuts if this timeframe is dry. And even this year, it seems, irrigated orchards are coming up short on size, too, Wells said.

“The second most important factor affecting nut size is crop load. Crop load is hit-and-miss this year. Some orchards have a pretty heavy crop, while some have virtually nothing. All things being equal, where the crop is heavier, nut size should be expected to be smaller,” Wells said.

Also, temperature plays a part in large nuts. “The more heat, the larger the nut size,” he said. June and July in Albany, Ga., the hub of the state’s pecan production, was cooler than in previous years.

But the market still wants pecans. Contracts for the Stuart variety range between $2.40 and $2.50 a pound. Desirables, the most planted variety in Georgia, are going for between $2.85 and $2.95. Prices will likely stay high through November. China continues to drive the demand for U.S. pecans. With their newfound taste for them, the country now buys a quarter to a third of the total U.S. pecan crop annually.