What is in this article?:
- Heavy rains swamped pecan orchards all summer and left them vulnerable to the crop's No. 1 enemy: scab.
- Scab is reported to be the worst in decades in some locations where growers had a difficult time getting into orchards to apply fungicides.
- Before the scab outbreak, Georgia expected 80 million to 90 million pounds this harvest, but disease might claim 15 million pounds or more of that.
PECAN'S No. 1 enemy, scab, flooded pecan orchards throughout Georgia this summer. Growers in the country’s leading pecan-producing state scrambled to get into orchards to apply timely fungicides to stay ahead of it, but it will cut yields this year.
Weather conditions in 2013 much like 2003
Scab claimed about 20 percent of the crop in 2003. Wells pulled weather data from April through August in 2003 and compared it to the same timeframe in 2013. “It’s almost identical data when you compare 2003 and 2013 with both rain amounts and frequency,” Wells said. During the timeframe, it rained more than 25 inches with as many as 75 days of rain in some locations in Georgia.
Pecan trees are alternate-bearing, meaning they produce a full crop every other year. Most trees in Georgia are on the same cycle, and this is an "off" year for Georgia pecans. Earlier in the spring, the crop looked set to make 80 million to 90 million pounds. But with the rainy weather and scab problems, Wells figures that potential statewide production likely will fall between 65 million and 70 million pounds by the time harvest ends later this year. Georgia’s record is 150 million pounds, set in both 1993 and 2007.
But unlike 2003, though, growers have more products and better practices to fight scab, even in bad years, Wells said. And, most importantly, growers have a bigger incentive to fight the disease to max out yields. “A lot of it now is nuts are worth more and growers are more willing to spend money on them,” he said.
The U.S. pecan industry has hit a boom in recent years with exports to China now vying for near half of the U.S. production each year. Where once prices fell into a production-driven boom or bust cycle, steady high prices, or $2 to $2.50 per pound, have put orchard management on the front burner for established growers and those looking to expand in it.
Pecan is a relatively small part of the United States farming economy, but it is big business in Southern states, particularly Georgia where it is worth more than $250 million annually and growing. Georgia is set to remain the top pecan-producing state. Nurseries that supply new trees are booked up until 2015, which means in the next two years acreage in Georgia could jump another 20,000 acres.