Georgia pecan growers are enjoying a good crop this year. But University of Georgia experts say last year's bad crop will continue to haunt shoppers, creating higher retail prices.
Over 100 Million-Pound Crop Expected
"After the devastating crop last year, Georgia pecan growers have come back with estimates of 100 million to 110 million pounds of pecans," said Tom Crocker, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"This is good news for growers, because their inventories coming into 1999 are low," he said.
Crocker, an Extension Service pecan specialist, said early pecan harvesting is a definite marketing niche for Georgia growers. "This early market is good for Georgia growers," he said, "but after Thanksgiving we may see a drop in the market."
Unlike other Georgia crops, pecans weren't drastically affected by this year's drought. "It may have affected some of the nonirrigated trees and caused the nuts to not fill out," Crocker said. "But for the most part, the quality of the crop looks very good."
So what does this mean for shoppers who want Georgia pecans for snacking and holiday baking?
Prices Will Be High
"Despite the decent crop this year, prices will stay relatively high because of the low carry-over inventory from last year," said Wojciech Florkowski, a CAES agricultural economist.
"The retail prices are going to be at least as high as last year's prices," he said. "And last year's prices were high because of the poor crop."
Florkowski has worked closely with the pecan industry for the past 10 years. He says wholesale pecan prices have risen $2 per pound over the past four years.
Higher wholesale prices turn into higher retail prices. "This year, if you can get shelled pecans for $6 a pound, that's good," he said. "The prices are quickly moving up into the $7 range."
Wholesale pecan prices have been exceptionally high over the past few months due to low supplies from last year. "We've seen very little product movement because there was very little inventory from last season," Florkowski said. "The carry-over from last year is one of the lowest on record."
Florkowski said retailers sell pecans "first in, last out." "When they get the new pecans in," he said, "they take last year's pecans out of storage and sell them first."
For This Year's Crop, Shop Farmers Market
If you plan to buy more than just a pound or two, consider shopping the nearest farmers market.
"The farmers market offers a fresher product, and you may get a better price because there's lower overhead," he said. "Farmers markets sell the pecans straight from the growers, and most growers don't have cold storage facilities. They sell their nuts as they harvest them."
"Desirables" and "Stuarts" continue to be consumers' favorites, Florkowski said. Both are widely grown in Georgia. Desirables have a naturally light-colored skin and kernel. Stuarts are prone to be darker-skinned nuts. But past studies have shown they taste the same to consumers.
(Photograph by Scott Bauer, United States Department of Agriculture.)
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)