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Georgia pecan crop good, less than expected

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Earlier this year, Georgia appeared primed for a bumper pecan crop. But a soggy summer left the crop looking a little scabby and expectations dropped.

Growers were betting on a large pecan crop (about 130 million pounds) in early spring, said Darrell Sparks, pecan horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. But several negative factors over the summer combined to hurt the crop that is still expected to be good.

Fungus problem

A fungal disease called scab hit the crop hard this summer. Scab, which thrives in moist conditions, first develops on the leaves and moves to the shucks that cover the pecan shell. It can turn the shucks black and prevent the nut inside from maturing properly, or not at all. It lowers pecan yields and quality if left untreated by growers.

Georgia growers must spray their orchards with fungicides to control scab. Heavy and numerous summer rains prevented many growers from spraying enough to control scab. One pecan orchard in Dougherty County received 43 rains over this growing season, Sparks said.

The heavy amount of rain Georgia’s pecan orchards had over this summer was similar to the amounts received in the summers of 1989 and 1991, he said. Both summers weren’t good for pecan growing.

Scab wasn’t the only thing that hindered this year’s crop. It seems this year was just one of those years.

Dropped

Pecans literally dropped out of the trees.

It’s natural for pecan trees to throw off developing fruits. This allows trees to concentrate on developing the remaining fruits into good quality pecans. Trees generally shed fruit about four times each year.

But the June drop this year for the Desirable pecan variety, one of Georgia’s most popular varieties, was excessive, he said.

“This kind of drop for Desirables only happens about once every nine years,” he said.

Other pecan varieties include Schley, Stuart, Elliott and Sumner.

Split

Heavy rains in early August hurt the crop in another way. Pecans were in a crucial stage of development. Rains forced too much moisture into the developing nuts and in some cases split them, causing them to fall undeveloped and useless from trees, he said. This excessive water split drop happens about once every seven years, he said.

What’s left of the pecan crop is in fair to good condition, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.

Harvest has started for early-maturing varieties and will continue through December. Nut quality is expected to be good, and Georgia growers will harvest an average crop, Sparks said, which is about 90 million pounds. Last year, Georgia produced only 45 million pounds.

Dougherty County, with about 15,200 acres of pecan trees, is considered the hub of Georgia pecan production.

“Most of the hulls are just now starting to open up,” said Lenny Wells, Dougherty County extension coordinator. “In another month we’ll be pretty hard into picking.”

Worth about $75 million a year, Georgia produces about half of the total pecans grown in the United States.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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