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State pecans looking good despite rains
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Pecans are one Mississippi crop not taking a beating from excessive fall rains, but until the pecans are out of the orchard, the crop is not out of the woods.
Pecan growers are trying to harvest a better-than-average crop and take advantage of good early-season prices. Experts anticipate a more than 2-million-pound pecan harvest in the state. The national crop is expected to be about 300 million pounds, up 100 million pounds from last year.
John Michael Riley, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the 2008 production was valued at $1.77 million. Mississippi produced 900,000 pounds of improved variety pecans and 600,000 pounds of native/seedling pecans.
“This year’s production is expected to be higher with 2 million pounds of improved pecans and 500,000 of native/seedling pecans,” Riley said.
David Ingram, an Extension plant pathologist, is heavily involved with the state’s pecan industry. He said Mississippi has about 30 commercial growers and from 2,300 to 2,500 acres of pecan orchards.
“The problem we’re having is not being able to harvest,” Ingram said. “As long as the pecans don’t fall on the ground and become water-logged and rotted or sprouted, they’re fine. But we have to have a few weeks of dry weather to be able to get the pecan crop in.”
Ingram said pecan trees started the season out well with a good nut set and development. Producers had more problems than usual with pecan scab disease, mostly because of rains that prevented them from applying fungicides on schedule.
“I don’t think it will be a yield-limiting factor, but it may affect the quality of the nut meat,” Ingram said. “The disease grows on the nut shuck. If it gets in there early enough, the pecan doesn’t develop as full in the shell, and you have a lighter-weight nut.”
Black aphids, yellow aphids, scorch mites and stink bugs impacted the crop, with stink bugs causing problems in the Delta as the pests left the soybean fields for pecan orchards.
“Stink bugs can penetrate the nut shell and reach the meat,” Ingram said. “They introduce bacteria that turn that part of the pecan meat black.”
Retail prices at the end of October were about $4 to $5 a pound, with wholesale prices about $2.50 a pound. Retail prices in 2008 were about $3.50, so current prices are good but expected to drop some as the bulk of the nation’s pecan crop hits the market.
Randolph Smith manages Smith’s Pecans of Raymond, the state’s largest commercial pecan orchard. He said rains have kept his crews out of the orchards, and only about 30,000 pounds of pecans had been harvested by late October.
“Typically we harvest from 200,000 to as high as 300,000 pounds of pecans a year,” Smith said. “We should have a fourth of them in by now, but the rain has stopped us. We normally end our harvest around the first of February.”
Smith said he is trying to get enough pecans harvested to meet retail and mail-order demand for his crop before they begin selling large quantities at wholesale.
“We want to sell some of these nuts before the price starts dropping,” Smith said.