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Improved Pecan Harvest Remains Below Average
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Pecan growers are harvesting their best crop in three years this fall, but the yield is still only a fraction of what the state can produce.
With 50 percent of the harvest complete, growers expect to harvest 2.5 million pounds from Mississippi's 12,000 to 14,000 acres of pecan orchards.
Dr. Freddie Rasberry, Mississippi State University's extension horticulturist, said that is well more than double last year's yield of 1 million pounds, but well below the average of 5 million to 8 million pounds of pecans a year.
1994's devastating ice storm took a terrible toll on pecan trees in the Delta and wiped out that fall's crop. Accumulated ice killed and severely damaged about 6,700 acres of the Delta's 8,000 acres of pecan trees, Rasberry said. This year, the pecan trees in the Delta finally are starting to thrive after three years of recovery.
"This is the first time that we are going to be able to harvest any pecans since the 1994 ice storm," said Travis Jenkins, owner of J.T. Jenkins Pecan Co. in Rena Lara.
Jenkins predicted Delta pecan growers will harvest 15 to 20 percent of their crop this year, a great improvement over last season. On 350 acres of trees that should yield 750 pounds an acre, Jenkins harvested a total of 1,026 pounds last year.
Jenkins said it will take another two years for his pecan trees to have fully recovered from the ice storm, but he predicted another good year next season for Delta growers.
The number of pounds of pecans harvested in 1997 across the state is expected to reach 4 million to 5 million, Rasberry projected.
"I think the yield next year is going to double," he said. "Pecan harvests are going to continue to get better until the damaged trees get back in production."
The 1994 ice storm did not damage all of the state's pecan trees. Randolph Smith, part-owner of Smith's Pecan Farm in Raymond, said half a temperature degree saved his trees during the ice storm.
This year Smith expects to get half a crop from his pecan trees. Last year he had a bumper crop but because of alternate bearing, this year's crop is low, he said.
Since the trees in the Delta are still reestablishing themselves, Rasberry predicted pecan crop yields will increase steadily each year for the next two or three.
Alternate bearing does not occur while the trees are regrowing, but once reestablished, it will again affect the state's pecan crops.
Because of the good crop this year in the southeast, pecan prices are lower now than last year. Consumers can expect to pay around $2.50 a pound for cracked and cleaned pecans and $2.25 for pecans in the shell.
The price dropped from more than $3.50 a pound early in the season as pecans from other states entered the market.
The lower prices are hurting the Delta farmers who finally have a crop to sell. Their trees were late this year and by the time their high quality pecans were ready to sell, the market already was saturated with lower quality nuts, Jenkins said.
In addition to availability, the quality of the pecan also affects its price. To ensure quality, consumers should crack open a pecan and examine the meat before making a purchase, Rasberry said.
The pecan should taste good and have a uniform color with no black spots in the meat. Black spots indicate it has been stung by insects, he said.