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Hurricane Hit Pecans Hard, But Nurseries Fared Well
By Amy Woolfolk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When Hurricane Georges blasted through coastal Mississippi last week, the pecan crop took a beating, but nurseries escaped with light to moderate damage.
Extension agricultural agents in some southern counties described significant damage to pecans and trees.
John Wesley, Stone County Extension agent, called this year's pecan harvest in his county a complete loss. The crop was only about three weeks from harvest.
"Unfortunately, what looked like a bumper crop is now gone," he said. "Nuts are on the ground, as are limbs and trees. Stone County has lost about 600 acres of pecans."
Dr. Freddie Rasberry, horticulturist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said most pecans on the ground are not mature enough to be saved, but a few may be salvaged.
"Most of the pecan varieties in southern Mississippi are late maturing varieties," he said. "These nuts that are now on the ground have not begun to crack their shells and are lost as a result. Some of the early-maturing varieties might have cracked their shells before being blown off. These nuts may be salvaged."
Rasberry said while it is possible to save some downed trees, often the best thing to do is remove them and plant young ones.
"If a tree's brace roots are undamaged, it can survive being placed upright," the specialist said. "To reset a tree, dig out the windward side, stand the tree up and fill in the hole with mud. It is important not to leave any air pockets in the hole and to keep the roots wet."
Even though the tree can survive and grow new feeder roots, brace roots will not regenerate. As a result, the tree will always be weak and need a great deal of attention, he said.
Because nursery plants could be sheltered or laid over before the storm hit, these crops did not suffer as much damage as did pecans.
Dr. Patricia Knight, assistant horticulturist at the South Mississippi Experiment Station in Poplarville, said plants had leaves blown off and small branches broken, but there was little other crop or structural damage.
"Most nursery workers laid their plants over before the storm hit, which helped minimize damage," she said. "Laying them over also helped prevent rain damage."
Knight said most nursery owners felt fortunate to come out as well as they did. While some plants normally sold in the fall will not be available until spring, most nurseries expect to be shipping again by the first week in October.
Nursery crops are eligible for various levels of federally-subsidized crop insurance. The policies are sold and administered by private insurance companies, and premiums are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.