As the weather cools off and the holidays get closer, “we buy pecans” signs are cropping up at gas stations and small stores along Louisiana highways.
Louisiana’s pecan harvest started in October ago and will run through late December, said LSU AgCenter pecan specialist Charlie Graham. He expects about 15 million pounds of pecans to be harvested in Louisiana this year.
Improved varieties of pecans are fetching $2.80 to $3 per pound, which is “very good,” Graham said. Natives, which make up most of the Louisiana crop, aren’t faring as well, selling for between 40 cents and 60 cents per pound.
Graham said growers are still trying to catch up from the 2011 drought, which harmed pecan size and quality. Much of the crop that year was sold as pieces for lower prices.
While native Louisiana pecans have high oil content and good flavor, they sell for lower prices because of their smaller size, Graham said.
Louisiana is one of few states where pecans are native. Georgia, the No. 1 pecan-producing state, grows mostly the improved varieties.
Graham said Louisiana growers are gradually planting more improved varieties, like those grown in trials at the AgCenter’s Pecan Research and Extension Station. They not only produce larger pecans, but also can provide resistance to a fungal disease called scab.
Scab pressure has been light this year, Graham said, but developing resistant varieties is still important. The disease causes black lesions to form on pecans. If scab infection occurs early in the growing season, nuts can fall from the tree too soon, resulting in partial to total crop loss.
Insects haven’t been much of a problem this season either — yet.
“We’re waiting to see about stinkbugs,” Graham said. “They move into pecans after soybeans and cotton are harvested. You don’t know how much damage they’ve done until you shell the pecans.”
Stinkbugs pierce the shells of pecans and feed on the kernels, leaving behind black dots. Pecans with stinkbug damage sell for lower prices.
Pecans contributed nearly $7.8 million to Louisiana’s economy in 2013. Pointe Coupee is the top-producing parish and where the state’s largest shelling plant is located.
Most people grow pecans on a small scale and sell them either locally or to a processing plant, where they are treated with heat or chlorine and then shelled.
“We don’t have a lot of large orchards in Louisiana,” Graham said. “We have a lot planted as 5- or 10-acre plots. People tend to use it for extra income or vacation money.”
The nature of the industry makes it is hard to tell exactly how many pecan producers there are or how many acres they grow. Graham estimates state pecan acreage is about 20,000 acres.
Louisiana has ranked fifth or sixth for U.S. pecan production in recent years. Georgia, New Mexico, Texas Oklahoma and Arizona are other top pecan-producing states.
The United States ranks No. 1 in world production for pecans. The nuts have become a novelty in China, which has been buying between 60 million and 100 million pounds of American pecans since 2009, Graham said.