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Pecan farmers see high prices for meager crop

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia pecan farmers are seeing some high prices for their crop this year. But they don't have much crop to sell, due to untimely tropical storms this fall. Shoppers can expect to pay more for pecans this holiday season.

Depending on the pecan variety, Georgia farmers are seeing prices ranging from $1.20 to $2.15 per pound, said Greg Fonsah, an economist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. That's an average of about $1.67 per pound, the highest ever.

"We're certainly looking at some historically high prices for pecans at the farm level right now," Fonsah said.

Farmers haven't seen prices in this range since 1992. Prices averaged about $1.50 per pound that year. The crop totaled about 30 million pounds, extremely low for Georgia, traditionally the biggest producing state. A large 1991 crop and unfavorable weather caused the '92 crop to be so poor.

Good to bad

The weather this summer treated Georgia's pecan crop well, said Darrell Sparks, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

But hurricanes and tropical storms in September pounded the crop that was nearing maturity. Strong winds knocked limbs and nuts to the ground, Sparks said. Many trees were blown completely over.

Georgia pecan farmers lost an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of this year's crop due to bad weather. They're expected to harvest about 40 million pounds this year. That's about half what they harvested last year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. Production hasn't been this low since the drought of 1998.

The United States is expected to produce about 189 million pounds of pecans this year, about 33 percent less than last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

More than half of Georgia's crop is in poor to very poor condition, according to the GASS. About 20 percent of it has been harvested. The harvest will run through December.

"Some growers say they will only harvest once because there's not enough out there to make it worth harvesting a second time," said Lenny Wells, a Dougherty County Extension Service agent. With about 15,000 acres of orchards, Dougherty County is considered the hub of Georgia pecan production.

Alabama's pecan crop was also heavily damaged by tropical storms. As much as 80 percent of the crop was reportedly lost there due to Hurricane Ivan.

Consumer prices

This year's early-season pecan halves are selling for between $7 and $8 per pound in grocery stores in south Georgia.

Pecan halves last year averaged between $4.50 and $5.50 per pound, according to Jose Pena, an economist with the Texas Cooperate Extension Service. Prices are expected to come down as the harvest progresses.

This year, Texas is expected to produce about 50 million pounds of pecans, pushing past Georgia for the top producing state for the second year in a row.

Total U.S. tree nut production is expected to be about 2.3 billion pounds, the highest on record, according to the USDA.

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

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