The last time Tom Stevenson remembers pecan disease being as bad as this year was in 1994, when a tropical storm stalled over south Georgia and dumped record rainfall in 24 hours – deadly flooding followed it.

In the region left swamped, growers were unable to get into orchards to work.

Though not deadly, record soggy weather dominated the Southeast in many areas this summer. It left pecan orchards vulnerable for a big attack from the crop’s No. 1 enemy. The fungal disease scab scars husks, cuts yield and hurts quality.

“We’ve had some wet years before, but not like it has been this summer where it has rained all summer long,” said Stevenson, a south Georgia-based pecan orchard manager.

Stevenson has managed pecan orchards for 40 years and currently oversees 5,000 acres. This year, he said, to try and stay ahead of the disease, his orchards got 16 or 17 fungicide sprays, or twice as much as in a normal year, costing $600 per acre this year for fungicide applications. Again, that cost is double what it is typically.

 

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“(Producers) will need to watch for (scab) next year, too, because there will be plenty of inoculum out there to over-winter on the tree limbs and if we get a warm, wet spring next year, they will need to get out there early to spray because there is no magic juice to spray to kill it and it is hard to play catch up with it once it starts,” Stevenson said.

Georgia’s the top pecan-producing state. Roughly half the state’s 150,000 acres of commercial orchards are planted in scab-susceptible varieties, like Desirable, Schley and Pawnee, said Lenny Wells, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension pecan specialist. The Desirable variety produces the desired nut quality and size the market likes most now.

Some growers, Wells said, sprayed upwards of 20 times to try and stay ahead of the disease this summer. If more than 25 percent of a pecan shuck is covered in scab, there will be losses. But when it hits a small, developing nut early, and if it is not managed or can’t be managed on a timely schedule, the nut turns black and falls. “Scab statewide is the worst it has been in 10 years at least,” he said. “And in some locations it is worse.”