In spite of hurricanes and a few pecan weevils, the 2017 U.S. pecan crop managed to exceed the USDA’s estimate of 277.4 million in-shell pounds.
Philip Arnold, a member of the American Pecan Council, says he feels that given the numbers of regional production, the U.S, crop hit very close to 300 million pounds this year.
Pecan harvest ended later than normal this year, with some of the crop still coming from orchards in early February. Most regions started harvest in late November, but in some Arizona pecan growing areas it was delayed by warm temperatures until late December.
Arnold, also a New Mexico pecan grower and buyer, says new acreage and excellent growing conditions in some major pecan production areas helped the overall harvest numbers.
Georgia was estimated to harvest a 150 million pound crop- prior to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but suffered about a 30 percent crop loss. Native production in the central growing regions was skimpy, he says, while Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas production combined to boost the crop total.
New Mexico and Texas exceeded early crop estimates. Arnold says New Mexico harvested about 95 million pounds, Arizona added another 26 million to 27 million pounds, and Texas came in at 45 million pounds.
Last year was tagged as an ‘off year’ for alternate bearing pecans, but management, including hedging to prevent over-size crops, is balancing out the on-and-off cycles. In the last eight years, he says, there hasn’t been more than a 10 percent variance between years.
The Mesilla Valley in New Mexico, where 65 percent of the state’s pecans are produced, had an excellent growing season. With more acres coming into production, the harvest total topped 2016 production. The area had an excellent growing season, with a very high percentage of saleable nuts. Growers reported very low numbers of off-grade nuts.
Pest and disease issues were minimal in growing regions, but growers were facing challenges with thefts of nuts from orchards, Arnold says. Like California walnut growers have experienced in the past, pecan buyers were setting up shop on roadsides and paying cash for nuts, enticing thefts from orchards. There is now state legislation pending that would require buyers to register with law enforcement to operate, he says.
CALIFORNIA CROP DOWN
California added about 5 million in-shell pounds to the total pecan crop. Mark Hendrixson, an Orange Cove area grower and president of the California Pecan Growers Association, says the crop total was down about 15 percent from last year.
Temperatures at bloom may have affected the crop size, he says. Nut fill was generally good, but quality slipped toward the end of harvest
While pecans have more specific needs in terms of planting locations that some other nut crops, he says there is still interest in planting more.
Mexico, a competitor for the U.S. in the pecan market, had a 220 million pound crop, which was off about 60 million pounds from last year.
Arnold and the American Pecan Council note that even with the crop losses in Georgia, the industry is poised to meet ongoing demand. The council, founded in 2016 with the approval of a federal marketing order, plans to launch a new national brand campaign that will include marketing research, nutrition information, and consumer outreach, along with a social media presence.
Record prices for pecans in 2016 affected the market last year, with fewer active buyers, Arnold says. This year, the expectation is to export 60 million to 70 million pounds. With lower prices, he expects more buying activity. China, a major buyer is just starting its New Year celebrations, and he expects that will spur demand.