Yield potential down, but spirits up for pecan crop

The spring freeze, summer drought and fall hurricane season of 2008 may have affected yield potential in many Mississippi pecan orchards, but industry watchers remain cautiously optimistic about the crop.

“Some of the trees have come back and are loading up pretty good with pecans,” said David Ingram, plant pathologist with the Mississippi State University Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond, Miss.

When 2008 began, the pecan industry in Mississippi had high hopes for a projected crop estimate of 1 million pounds. Since that time, weather situations may have reduced yield potential by 25 percent or more, Ingram said.

Mild weather in February and March caused many pecan trees to flower and to experience pollination. Some trees even set nutlets because of the warm temperatures. When a late freeze hit in April, some trees shed their flowers and nutlets. The freeze killed some trees while leaving others unharmed.

“There was no rhyme or reason to how the freeze affected one tree and didn’t affect the tree next to it,” Ingram said. “Where the tree stood in the orchard may have made a difference in survival for some trees.”

Growers cleared broken limbs and debris as they continued production. They experienced minimal pressure from insect and disease pests because most follow prescribed scouting and treatment for pests.

“Growers are on a calendar because they know they must do so to have a crop,” Ingram said. “They may spray from five to eight times during the season to maintain the health of the trees and protect the nuts as they develop.”

Most nuts were far enough into development that the dry weather did not affect quality. The timing of the dry weather worked well enough to subdue most infestations of pecan scab, a fungus that can limit yield by having an effect on development.

“In most cases, if the disease occurs in late season, it doesn’t affect the nuts because the shells had hardened and the nutmeat inside is mature,” Ingram said.

Extension horticulturist John Braswell said higher prices for diesel and fertilizer caused some growers to cut back on mowing and fertilizer applications to save money.

“The fertilizer has to be distributed where the roots are along the orchard floor to benefit the trees,” Braswell said. “That means the grower has to consider the cost of the diesel to operate the tractor and the cost of the fertilizer, which is too expensive to be misapplied.”

Hurricane Gustav caused major damage to Louisiana’s pecan crop as it swept through the Pelican State in early September, but most orchards in Mississippi escaped with minor problems.

Federal disaster assistance is available to Mississippi growers who did receive storm damage. Contact the local Farm Service Agency office for more information.

Harvest activity in the approximately 1,300 acres of Mississippi’s commercial pecan orchards is getting under way. Ingram said most growers will be in full swing by mid-October, provided no other major weather disasters occur.

When harvest concludes in late December, many growers will turn their attention to finalizing details for the 2009 pecan orchard workshop sponsored by the Extension Service, the Mississippi Pecan Growers Association and the Pecan Producers of Louisiana.

“Growing pecans is a 12-month job,” Ingram said. “There is always something the growers need to do to get ready for the next crop.”

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