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2000 Drought Hurts Pecans Now, Later
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The damaging effects of this year's drought may not be confined to the 2000 pecan crop as the stressed trees also may lack the energy to produce big yields next year.
Like other trees in the state, some pecans went dormant early to protect themselves from a fate worse than just losing leaves.
"We had a good fruit-set at the beginning of the season, but the drought caused most of the nuts to abort. We will have about a fourth of a crop this year," said Randolph Smith, president of the Mississippi Pecan Growers Association. "Some growers have actually lost trees because of the drought. Others will just be looking at reduced yields over the next few years."
The owner of Smith's Pecans in Raymond, he said the smaller crop is strictly a result of the drought and not because of last year's good crop. Pecans typically have alternating years of high yields, followed by several years of lower yields.
Very little of the 1998 crop was able to be carried over to 1999, which helped last year's prices. Despite the 1999 drought, commercial growers harvested 4 million pounds, possibly because of the previous season's low yields.
Smith said prices this year appear to be running about the same as last year. Early pecans are bringing about $1.80 per pound in the hull. That price is considered good since more pecans were kept from the previous year's crop . Like most pecan orchards in the state, Smith's trees are not irrigated.
"I've been waiting for a real good year to help finance a well," he said.
The majority of Mississippi's commercial pecan producers are in the north Delta, in Bolivar, Coahoma and Tallahatchie counties.
Ann Ruscoe, Coahoma County agricultural agent, said preliminary reports predict about 2 million pounds of pecans across the state.
"We're looking about half the normal state yield, maybe less," Ruscoe said. "It will certainly be less than half of what we started out with before the drought. Even irrigated orchards struggled this year."
Cliff Heaton of Clarksdale said the irrigation on his trees is intended to provide supplemental water.
"The drought lasted so long that it caused nuts to shed. The good news is that my trees should be in better shape for next year than if irrigation had not been available," he said. "There is no question that the irrigation saved some of the trees. It will be next year before some growers know if they lost any trees to the drought."