COLFAX, La. — Louisiana pecan producers like Ben Littlepage are optimistic about this year's crop after suffering the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili last year.
"I have been in the pecan business since the 1940s, and there are a lot of good things to say about the pecan crop this year," said Littlepage, who is a pecan producer from Colfax, La. "We have a good crop, good prices, good quality and good weather to harvest the pecans."
During the harvest season last year, growers suffered the devastation of a storm and hurricane that reduced the production and quality of the crop. Pecan production was reduced by hurricane force winds blowing nuts off the trees, and the nut quality was reduced by the absorption of moisture from the wet ground. Worse yet, persistent rains following the storms further restricted harvest crews from entering orchards with harvesting equipment.
But this year has produced a different story, experts and growers say.
"Timely rains and light disease pressure are major factors contributing to the good pecan crop this year," said LSU AgCenter pecan specialist John Pyzner.
This year rains fell throughout the growing season. Mid-season rains help develop the size of the nut, and late-season rains enhance the quality by aiding in filling of the nuts. Better yet, the current relatively dry weather helps farmers harvest their crop.
"We had a combination of all these weather conditions this year in Louisiana," Pyzner said.
Louisiana's pecan crop is estimated to be good this year, but the forecasts in other states are not as optimistic. For instance, Georgia and Alabama are expecting 20 percent reductions from predictions made earlier in the year for this year's harvest.
"This year's pecan harvest is estimated to be nearly 17 million pounds in Louisiana," said Pyzner, explaining that estimate is nearly 2.5 times the 6.9 million pounds of pecan harvested last year.
John and Debbie Barnett with Tri-Delta Pecans in Greenville, Miss., were at the Littlepage farm recently to survey the pecan crop and determine the pecan quality.
"These are excellent quality pecans," said John Barnett while weighing a shelled sample. "This is a seller's market."
Littlepage hires an average of 12 local people during a good year to harvest the pecans in his 350-acre orchard.
"A good pecan harvest helps these employees have a good Christmas," said Littlepage, adding, "And these employees are looking for a good Christmas season this year."
Pecans are produced in 16 states in the United States. The leading states in pecan production are Georgia, followed by Texas and New Mexico. Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma generally compete for fourth place most years.
Pecan growers like Littlepage understand the need to follow the recommendations of organizations like the LSU AgCenter and to plant recommended varieties. He grows varieties such as Candy, Desirable, Elliott, Melrose, Stuart and Sumner.
"The production of pecans is a long-term project, so homeowners and pecan producers should start by planting recommended varieties," said Pyzner. "Homeowners and low-input orchards should plant varieties such as Elliott and Sumner that have good scab disease resistance."
Homeowners interested in pecans and commercial pecan producers may contact the parish LSU AgCenter Center office for more information on planting pecan trees or other agricultural crops — or visit the Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.
John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter. (318–473–6605 or firstname.lastname@example.org).