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Disease problems challenge pecans
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rains may help pecans grow plump, but the nuts first must survive the increased challenge of diseases that attack quality and threaten losses.
David Ingram, Mississippi State University's associate plant pathologist at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said parts of the state have been hit hard with scab disease. Some varieties, including Desirable and Pawnee, were hit harder than others, such as Owens.
Scab is a fungal disease that develops in rainy conditions from shucks, leaf petioles and stems infected the previous season. Spots develop on leaves, then affect the husks and eventually cause nuts to shed from the trees. Scab impacts quality and yield.
"Mississippi still is looking at a better crop than in the previous couple of years when lack of rain was a big issue. Nuts will be a lot larger this year," Ingram said.
Randolph Smith, president of the Mississippi Pecan Growers Association, said the state will harvest significantly more than last year's 2 million pound crop, but the year wasn't without its challenges for growers.
"We just had too much rain. You can't control diseases very well when rains wash off the fungicides soon after you apply them," Smith said. "We've spent about a third more on the crop this year. We couldn't control scab adequately on about a third of the pecans, so we'll probably only harvest 75 percent of what we'd anticipated."
The owner of Smith's Pecans in Raymond, Smith said he sprayed his orchard 12 times this year. Unsprayed orchards across the state may not yield any crop since even native pecan trees, usually undaunted by scab, suffered this year. Smith reported additional problems from black aphids, which promise to challenge next year's crop as well. Black aphids cause leaves to fall early, which will reduce blooms produced the next season.
Smith said prices were down last year because of the small nut size. This year, growers will harvest larger nuts, but more of them, so prices still may be somewhat depressed. Native, smaller pecans may run $1.35 per pound, and larger nuts may run from $2.25 to $3.25 per pound, with the best prices for the earliest harvest.
The majority of Mississippi's commercial pecan producers are in the north Delta, in Bolivar, Coahoma and Tallahatchie counties.