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Fall crops harvest in full swing now
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Two of Mississippi's biggest fall horticultural crops are nearing harvest's end, and pumpkins appear to be faring slightly better than pecans.
David Ingram, associate plant pathologist at Mississippi State University's Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said pecan scab has been severe this growing season. The disease causes nuts to fall off the trees too early or not fill out completely.
"Commercial growers are usually pretty good at controlling fungal diseases, but private growers don't normally have that ability," Ingram said. "Just about every private grower I've seen has had trees with significant scab problems."
But commercial growers were not without challenges. Heavy rainfall early in the summer made spraying for the disease more difficult and less effective.
"We can't cure a disease, so we have to prevent it," said Randolph Smith, owner of 500-acre Smith's Pecans just south of Raymond. "The heavy rains made spraying take longer, and more applications had to be put out to try to keep the disease under control."
He said even some seedlings that normally do not get pecan scab were impacted by the disease.
Despite the disease problems, about 4 million pounds of pecans will be harvested in Mississippi this season. That number is significantly lower than the expected 5 to 7 million pounds, but higher than last year's 3 million pounds.
Prices for pecans should be a little higher this year, with early pecans bringing in about $1.80 per pound. That price will decrease quickly to about 45 cents a pound, but Smith said this is a good starting point. The increased price is a result of limited carryover from last year's crop, which was down two-thirds from the previous year.
Smith said pecans are a notoriously alternate-bearing crop, so it won't be a surprise if next year offers lower yields. But proper management can help ensure a "decent" return crop.
"To get a return crop next year, we have to do everything right," Smith said. "We have to either irrigate or get enough rainfall, knock about 50 percent of the nuts off in July and put on a fall nitrogen application in August or September."
Smith added that pecans are a cholesterol-free food, so everyone should eat a handful of the nuts every day.
Favorable weather throughout August and September helped pumpkins through the growing season and harvest. Prices are good, with early pumpkins selling for about $3 each wholesale.
"Mississippi farmers grew about 450 acres of pumpkins this year, down about 20 percent from last year mostly because the soil was too saturated at planting time," said David Nagel, Extension professor of plant and soil sciences. "Yields are good this year, with about a thousand pumpkins per acre. The quality of pumpkins is also good."
A pumpkin's quality is determined by its size, color and shape. Looking at a pumpkin's stem, or handle, can help buyers judge the quality of a pumpkin before purchasing it.
"The stem should be firm and well-dried. A weak or wet handle indicates an immature pumpkin, which will rot fairly quickly," Nagel said. "Also remember that if you're going to carve a pumpkin for Halloween, wait until close to Oct. 31 because once you cut into the pumpkin, it will rot very quickly."