Pecan crop exceeding expectations

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Late-season rains, sunshine helped kernel production

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Pecan quality and quantities are exceeding early expectations, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said the early pecan crop estimate was for a below-average year. But timely late-season rains and plenty of sunshine helped kernel production.

“Pecans were originally predicted to be off somewhat, but they’ve been better than expected with regard to yields and especially quality,” he said. “It was a stressful summer in Southwest Texas, but as long as growers had plenty of irrigation water, it looks like quality has been superior to last year.”

Stein said kernel quality was much better than last year when late-season rains and cloudy skies hurt pecans as they were filling.

Early freeze not a problem, yet

This year, an early freeze at the end of October caused some concerns because pecans froze with shucks still unopened in late-maturing varieties like Choctaws and Kiowas, Stein said.

Once unopened pecans freeze, they must be opened physically, which translates into more harvest labor.

“I think most of those pecans were mature enough to be OK,” he said. “I haven’t heard about any major problems with the kernels associated with freeze damage.”

Stein said freezing temperatures “caught the trees off guard” because temperatures swung from warm to cold so quickly. The combination of dewy mornings and extreme foliage drops were causing some issues with harvesting nuts on the ground.

The early leaf drops could also affect the 2020 crop, he said. Typically, trees shed leaves around Thanksgiving, which provides trees several weeks to store energy and food before going dormant.

“It’s not uncommon to have freezes at Halloween, but I think this year trees weren’t acclimated to the cold,” he said. “Luckily we haven’t heard of any major issues with this year’s crop. Now, what it means for next year, who knows? But typically, we see a drop in production when trees get less recovery time to store up food and energy for next year.”

So-so prices

Despite good quality, pecan prices have been mediocre this season, “not bad, but not good either,” Stein said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported retail and holiday gift markets were steady and pecan demand was strong.

The commercial/domestic market softened, and some domestic buyers were waiting to see if the price will continue to decline before committing to purchase pecans.

The American Pecan Board reported stable pecan prices and that growers had weathered the ongoing trade war with China relatively well as global demand continues to grow.

“The tariff situation with China is still not resolved, and that hurts U.S. exports and ultimately prices for producers,” Stein said. “Growing demand from the Chinese market had been a game-changer for pecan producers over the last decade.”