Clusters of pecans stayed in trees longer than usual this year in Louisiana. Dry weather throughout summer and into fall kept them in place, according to Randy Sanderlin, coordinator of the LSU AgCenter Pecan Research and Extension Station at Shreveport.

Harvest was delayed across the Southeast, Sanderlin said. The AgCenter research station began harvesting Nov. 12 after a 2-inch rain earlier that week.

“The crop is cooperating a little bit, and the situation is improving,” Sanderlin said. “Late-summer drought reduced kernel filling, so you can get poorer quality or lower size, weight or yield.”

Last year producers saw the opposite problem — too much rain during late summer and early fall also affected harvest.

Although it’s been a stressful year, Sanderlin predicts the quality will be good to excellent in 2010.

This is an off-year for pecans, which are alternate-bearing trees, but Sanderlin expects the state to produce about 8 million pounds, which is average in a down year. The industry is still recovering from hurricanes in 2007 that caused extensive damage to trees across the state. Louisiana harvested about 4 million pounds of pecans in 2008 and 9 million pounds in 2009.

Positive news for growers is an increase in exports to Asian countries, particularly China, according to LSU AgCenter pecan horticulturist Charles Graham.

“Five years ago they bought just 2 million or 3 million pounds,” Graham said. “Last year they bought 80 million pounds, so they are becoming a major player in the industry.”

This led to an increase in prices in the middle of last season when prices generally drop. Graham said prices are strong again this year, and he expects the industry to grow in the coming years because of the increase in demand.

Outbreaks of salmonella in nut crops have raised concerns about food safety. Graham said the LSU AgCenter is working with growers to keep their crop from becoming contaminated.

“We talk with the growers about how to better clean their facilities and make sure their equipment is really good to go before harvest stops because in Louisiana we want to provide the safest product that we can to the consumer,” he said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”