Pecans are a very important nut crop for the state of Georgia. We are normally ranked first in the nation in pecan production, having more than 180,000 acres planted in pecans in Georgia. Pecan production in Georgia is valued at around $415 million, according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.
The last few years have not been great for Georgia’s pecan farmers. Unusually wet summers have wreaked havoc on harvest yields, leading to market shortages and higher than normal prices for consumers. Trade issues have led to depressed prices for growers, and mass importation of cheap nuts from Mexico have stifled market production.
In 2018, Hurricane Michael devastated large parts of southwest Georgia, destroying over 741,000 pecan trees, equating to 17% of the total pecan-producing acreage. The state also lost an estimated 48% of its pecan crop due to the effects of the hurricane. The value of the lost crop is around $100 million, and the value of the productive trees lost to the hurricane is $260 million. The loss in future income to Georgia’s pecan farmers is estimated at around $200 million, according to UGA Pecan specialist Dr. Lenny Wells.
Normally, the years following a large hurricane sees lower pecan yields. Storm damage can take multiple years for the trees to recover from. However, 2019 yields look to hold a crop that most growers will be happy to walk away with. Total state yields are predicted to fall between 60 and 65 million pounds this year, according to UGA Pecan Extension agent Andrew Sawyer.
Georgia’s most popular pecan variety is the Stuart. Other popular varieties include Sumner, Cape Fear, and Desirable. Until recently, many producers had been planting large amounts of the Desirable variety pecan trees. When first released, Desirable was known for consistent production and large nut size. It was also fairly scab resistant. As more Desirable trees were planted, the amount of fungal infections increased, lowering its desirability in growers’ eyes.
Regardless of variety, 2019 is predicted to be a better-than-expected for Georgia’s pecan crop. This summer was not as wet as previous years, but the droughty conditions have brought their own challenges. At the time of writing, most of south Georgia hasn’t received rain in over 70 days. Lack of adequate soil moisture before harvest can cause issues with pecan shuck split, which needs to occur for a nut to fully mature. Fortunately, even with the dry conditions, this year’s harvest is expected to be reasonable, according to Sawyer.
If you would like to experience fresh South Georgia pecans this year, Dawson County 4-H can help you out. 4-H’ers are selling 1-pound bags of shelled pecan halves for $12 each to raise money for 4-H Club events. These pecans are shipped directly from a South Georgia orchard and will arrive just before Thanksgiving. Please call the Dawson County Extension office at 706-265-2442 for information.