Experts say Georgia’s 2006 pecan crop will be only about half of last year’s harvest, but the quality of the nuts is particularly good. And despite the short crop, prices shouldn’t change much.

Charles “Buddy” Leger, chairman of the Georgia Pecan Commission, estimates this year’s crop at about 60 million pounds, down from last year’s 120 million. The state averages about 88 million pounds per year.

“You need a good, cold winter for the tree to go into dormancy, and we haven’t had that in the past few years,” Leger said. “That doesn’t mean the tree won’t produce. It just produces a lower amount of pecans.”

The road to growing, buying and selling pecans is rough for Georgia pecan farmers, said Darrell Sparks, a horticulture professor and pecan expert with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This year is no different.

Sparks said the rough going comes from two things. “The first factor is that last year was a big crop, which means this year we’ll have a short crop,” he said. “The second was last year’s being a wet year. Pecans don’t do well with wet feet, or too much soil moisture.”

Pecan harvests have an annual up-and-down cycle, with a large crop one year and a short one the next.

Drought was a problem in Georgia, too. But Sparks estimates that half of the state’s orchards are irrigated, and 25 percent are watered very well.

The quality of this year’s nuts is “very good,” he said.

“One reason for this is the fact that there was no scab, which is the No. 1 disease of the pecan,” he said. “That was due to the weather being very dry this year.”

Sparks said soil moisture is a dominant factor in the size of the nuts. Pecans in non-irrigated orchards are about one-half the size of those in well-irrigated orchards.

With the high-quality nuts, Wojciech Florkowski, an agriculture and applied economics professor on the UGA Griffin campus, says the price for pecans won’t change much through the holidays.

“Then the prices may increase,” he said, “but that depends on the overall supply of pecans imported from Mexico as well as the prices at a retail level.”

Florkowski said retailers price nuts in a category. It doesn’t matter if they’re walnuts, pecans or almonds. “They try to keep the nuts priced at a stable level, with pecans priced a bit higher,” he said.

Sparks said a helpful trend farmers are catching onto is fruit thinning, or shaking off excess nuts early in the season. “The farmers that did this during their big crop...had the best production for the following year’s short crop,” he said.

But there’s an art to shaking off the fruit, he said. Growers must shake off just enough but not too much. They learned that the hard way on the “Desirable” pecan tree, which thins on its own.

“It was trying to tell us something,” he said.

A negative pecan trend, Sparks said, is a declining amount of land for growing pecans. Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the United States, he said, which leaves little room for large pecan orchards.

“Lee County, which is one of the largest producers of pecans in the state,” he said, “is also one of the fastest growing counties, percentage-wise, in Georgia.”

For now, the state remains among the three greatest producers of pecans in the country, along with Texas and New Mexico.