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Drought hurts pecan crop

By Sonny Long
Nov. 8, 2011 at 5:08 a.m.

Kelly Salo assembles three-pound bags of pecans for sale at the Cuero Pecan House. Workers said the increase in sales from oil field workers have offset any negative effects of the drought.

PECAN FACTS

The pecan tree is the official state tree of Texas.

Pecan trees are alternate bearing trees that will produce a big crop one year and a smaller crop the next.

Pecan trees usually range in height from 70 to 100 feet, but some trees grow as tall as 150 feet or higher. Native pecan trees - those older than 150 years - have trunks more than three feet in diameter.

There are more than 1,000 varieties of pecans. Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee.

SOURCE: National Pecan Shellers Association

DEWITT COUNTY PECAN SHOW

WHO: Pecan growers in DeWitt County and adjacent counties

WHEN: Tuesday, 8 a.m., includes bake sale, judging at 1 p.m.

WHERE: Friar Ag Center, Cuero Municipal Park

There may be fewer pecans in the Crossroads this season that will cost a bit more than in previous years, but the crop is a high quality one.

Mary Beth Finney, owner of the Cuero Pecan House, said the ongoing drought has had an impact on local growers.

"The commercial growers that I am purchasing pecans from have all seemed to have a reduction in crop this year," she said. "There are fewer pecans; however, the trees that have produced this year are a very good quality nut."

Brian Yanta, Goliad County extension agent, agreed.

"In drought situations, pecans saw very little production, but also had very little insect or disease pressures. So the pecans that made may have been smaller but good quality," Yanta said.

Area grower Peggy Laging of L-Bar Nut Farm in Yorktown said it's been a tough year.

"We're feeding a lot of crows," she said. "What crop we have had has been very small. It's just pathetic."

In addition to the drought, the demand for pecans in China is driving up the price.

"China has had an impact on the price of pecans, but then so has the cost of harvesting such as fuel and water prices," Finney said. "The drought has definitely had an impact on our local growers this season."

Finney said the Pecan House is selling in-shell pecans from $4.75 per pound to $5.75 per pound. Shelled pecans are selling for $11 per pound to $12 per pound.

Kernell Moritz of Nature's Best Nursery in Mission Valley is also seeing higher prices both for the producer and the consumer.

"The prices are way up because there's a shortage," he said. "I'm not complaining."

He said area pecan houses were selling a pound of in-shell nuts for about $5 a pound and road-side vendors were getting between $10 and $11 per pound.

Pecans are the only major tree nut native to the U.S., which produces about 80 percent of the world's crop. The harvest season begins in the fall in Georgia and Florida and ends in February in New Mexico.

Georgia is usually the biggest pecan producer. Other top states include Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Drought dramatically reduced the pecan crop in many of those states this year.

Production in Texas, which has had a record drought, dropped the most, from 70 million pounds last year to an estimated 40 million pounds this year.

The entire U.S. crop is expected to be less than 252 million pounds this year, roughly 14 percent smaller than last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sales in China and Vietnam climbed from less than 10 million pounds a year in the early 2000s to nearly 89 million pounds in 2009.

Exports to Asia dropped some last year, but total exports rose from 143.5 million to 146.7 million, with Europe and Mexico accounting for much of the increase.

Hilton Segler, executive director of the National Pecan Growers Council, estimated China would buy 50 million to 60 million pounds of pecans this year, and other countries would buy about 40 million pounds.

In South Texas, the drought actually had some positive effects for some commercial pecan growers.

"When it's drier, there's not as much disease or problems with insects," said Clifton Vinklarek, who began harvesting his crop near Yoakum earlier this month.

"I'll know more in a couple of weeks, but right now it looks like we'll have a fair crop, not a big crop. And the nuts are about average size.

"It hasn't been too bad."

Moritz also said the drought offered opportunities for quality nuts.

"If you work at it and take care of your trees you will be rewarded with excellent pecans," said Moritz, whose pecans from last year's crop placed high at the most recent state pecan show. "The crop is light because I had a heavy crop last year, but the quality is extremely good."

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