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Pecan yields appear worse than expected
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's pecan growers were expecting a light crop in 2004, but zero is significantly worse than some were anticipating.
David Ingram, Extension plant pathologist and research professor with the Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said pecans are an alternate-bearing crop, meaning good years are typically followed by smaller crops the next.
"Producers had decent yields in 2003 despite scab disease problems, so we were somewhat prepared for a lighter crop this year," Ingram said. "But you add in this year's wet weather that hurt during pollination time, another year of significant scab disease and the insects, and you'll see that 2004 was a struggle the entire season."
Hurricane Ivan spared Mississippi's commercial pecans but hit Alabama and Georgia hard. The resulting shortage of nuts across the region has helped drive prices up.
Ingram said the rains and high humidity were the toughest challenges in Mississippi this year. Rains hurt trees during pollination, and they made it difficult for growers to control scab disease flourishing in the humid conditions.
"It's hard to get fungicides out in a timely manner when rains are coming so frequently," he
said. "Foggy and heavy dew mornings along with all the humidity were conditions highly favorable for the spread of disease."
The plant pathologist said some varieties are more susceptible to scab than others. One of the most resistant varieties in central Mississippi is Jenkins, which originated in Mississippi's Delta.
Lamar Jenkins of Clarksdale, the grandson of the grower who produced the first Jenkins' seedling, said scab was not an issue in his orchards this year. Unfortunately, that was because he didn't have any crop at all.
"Our trees did not set any crop this year. I've never in my life seen a time when some variety did not produce some pecans," Jenkins said. "But this year, if we had any nuts, the squirrels or raccoons got them first. We had a pretty fair crop last year so we expected a lighter crop, but not a complete zero. This is a complete disaster."
Jenkins said it took his 285 acres about six years to recover from the 1994 ice storm. In 1999, the first year for him to produce a full crop after the ice storm, Jenkins' trees produced a farm record yield in excess of 250,000 pounds. Most years, the total yield is between 160,000 and 200,000 pounds.
"This year, when we got to May and saw that we hadn't set any nuts, we started scaling back on inputs to reduce our overhead, but we still had to spray for phylloxera, mites and take care of other maintenance issues," Jenkins said. "There are expenses whether you make a crop or not. If you don't do certain things, you'll lose the next year's crop."
Randolph Smith, co-owner of 465 acres of pecans just south of Raymond, said after a century of producing nuts, Smith Pecans may only yield about 25 percent of the normal harvest.
"I'm looking at 50,000 to 60,000 pounds at best," Smith said.
Smith said he thinks Mississippi will be lucky to produce 2 million pounds in 2004. Last year, growers estimated their total crop at 4 million pounds, compared to 3 million pounds in 2002.