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Monday, November 4, 2013 - 12:12pm

Rain, Fungus Shrinks Georgia Pecan Crop

Southwest Georgia’s pecan farmers are in the midst of harvesting their crop, but they’re a couple of weeks behind schedule and they’re losing a lot of the nuts to a fungal disease called pecan scab.

What will all that mean for holiday pecan prices? Not much right away, but it could raise consumer prices down the road.

University of Georgia pecan horticulturist Lenny Wells said that’s because stores still have pecans on the shelves from last year.

“It will probably take a little while for that to catch up,” Wells said. “But at some point, supply and demand will kick in and the consumer may see a little bit of a price bump in the stores.”

Wells said it could be 2014 before prices climb. And he worries that could be made worse by a small crop next fall. He said pecan trees often tend to produce fewer nuts the year after a wet, cloudy year where the trees endure lots of stress.

Georgia’s pecan crop was worth $319.5 million in 2011, according to UGA data, and it ranked ninth among the state’s farm commodities.

The problems started late this year because of the cool spring. Then the frequent rains this summer kept it wet, making some varieties susceptible to scab, a fungus that reduces the size and quality of the pecans and can kill the nuts.

“It’s not the total amount of rainfall as much as it is the frequency of rainfall,” Well said. “The longer those nuts and leaves stay wet, the more prone they are to develop scab.”

The result of all that, he said, is what growers expected would be a 90-million-pound crop looks closer to 65 million pounds—what Wells called a “significant drop.”

For farmers who successfully kept the pecan scab at bay, prices for exported pecans—the large “desirable” variety—are high, Wells said. Those are also the nuts most susceptible to the fungal disease.

He said the best, largest nuts export for $2.30 to $3.00 a pound. Those are similar to the prices farmers were fetching at this time last year.

Wells said prices will have to have to stay high for farmers to recoup all the money they had to spend to get a decent crop this year.

“We had some growers this year, I know, that sprayed over 20 times for scab and still have problems with it,” he said. “Normally, they’re spraying eight to 10 times.”

Meanwhile, the smaller nuts sold on the domestic market are selling anywhere from less than $1 to $1.80 per pound.

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