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Fruit And Pecan Trees Progress Into Summer
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Late freezes and a predicted light pecan crop are dampening prospects for Mississippi's fruit and nut growers, but growers haven't given up on the year.
Freddie Rasberry, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said last year had the potential of being the state's best pecan year since the 1994 ice storm caused extensive damage to Delta orchards. Because pecans ordinarily are alternate bearing fruit, bumper crops are often followed the next year by much smaller harvests.
"Last year's trees set a big crop, but the drought caused trees to abort a lot of nuts. Those that continued through to harvest failed to fill out to an ideal size," Rasberry said.
Bolivar County pecan grower Hilliard Lawler only works about a third of the acreage he handled before the ice storm. His expectations for his trees near the Mississippi River are not high because of last year's big crop.
"1999 was the first good year since the '94 ice storm. Disaster relief helped us maintain the orchards without revenue coming in," Lawler said. "Last fall's quality was hurt by the drought, but there was still a lot of pecans produced across the region. There will probably be significant (market) carryover this year."
Rasberry said the lack of crop insurance for pecans and the absence of uniform crop insurance statewide in other fruit crops adds to the challenges for growers.
"Peach acreage is continuing to decline because it is so unreliable and every year presents challenges," Rasberry said. "About a third of the state's peaches were lost to cold temperatures earlier this spring. The wet spring could cause problems later this summer when hot, dry conditions begin challenging shallow root systems."
Itawamba County peach grower E.B. Rogers said a late freeze wiped out half of his trees' potential crop for the second year in a row.
"I've been growing peaches for more than 20 years. Some years are great and some are total losses. Most are somewhere in between," Rogers said. "The freeze could have been nature's way of thinning the crop and could have done us a favor."
Without a freeze, growers have to go into an orchard and thin out the fruit load on a tree, which drives up the labor cost. Rasberry said he believes the freeze overthinned this year's crop.
"Trees can set five to six times the amount of fruit needed. If you want large, attractive peaches to sell, growers may have to knock off as much as 75 percent of the fruit to help the remaining peaches fill out," Rasberry said.