Monday, May 21, 2007

Freeze, drought hit pecans

Alan Mauldin, Thomasville Times-Enterprise
— THOMASVILLE — A late freeze and possibly the worst winter-spring drought in history have hurt pecan production in the area. It will be a few weeks before the extent of the damage is known, however.Row-crop farmers have suffered from the drought, which has prevented planting of most cotton and peanuts, but even deep-rooted trees are suffering from lack of moisture, said Thomas County Extension agent Don Clark.When he does survey the pecan crop, Clark said, it will be difficult to determine how much damage can be attributed to the freeze and how much is drought-related. He expects to survey the crop next month.“I’ll be getting my binoculars out in the middle of June and looking at the clusters,” he said. “We won’t really know for sure until we can examine the clusters all the way up the tree. We’ll be able to make a crop assessment for pecans by late June.”Lack of moisture to the shallow feeder roots will have a serious impact on production, Clark said.“Without moisture they’re not going to take up nutrients they need to make a crop,” he said. “Nobody that’s alive today, even if they’re 100, remembers a drought like we’re having now.”About three-quarters of the county’s pecan crop is not irrigated, Clark said.The latest bout of severe weather follows a dry 2006 season and two prior years when tropical storms pummeled the crop, said Thomas County pecan grower Tom Stone.“We’re not to the stage yet where they’re actually dropping off the trees,” said Stone, who irrigates most of his trees. “We’ve been dry before and come out. It’s not the end of the world.”The situation is critical and getting worse daily for the non-irrigated pecans, Stone said.“I don’t know how long this dry land (crop) can stand before they start shedding nuts,” he said. “About all we can do is pray for rain.”Because last year was a short crop, there are few pecans in storage, which means that if production is low this year consumers could feel the pinch of higher prices, said Georgia Pecan Commission Chairman Jimmy Champion.“Barring a total catastrophe there ought to be enough to go around, and they will probably be more expensive,” he said. “I think it’s about as dry as I can remember for this time of year.”Georgia and Texas traditionally rank as the top pecan producing states, with the No. 1 ranking depending on weather conditions.
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