Originally created 11/27/98

Disasters hurt pecan crops



SEGUIN, Texas -- Growers arrive at Pape's Pecan Co. anxious to sell their harvest. Workers load big red mesh bags of nuts onto delivery trucks. Shoppers browse through a gift store stocked with sweets.

It's as busy as it usually is around Thanksgiving.

But owner Kenneth Pape and his employees have worked extra hard to ensure a good supply of pecans after the summer's punishing drought and October's destructive flooding.

"We were harvesting my orchard when the flood hit," said Mr. Pape, a third-generation grower who lost equipment and pecans to fast-rising water in Seguin.

Other producers endured similar damage.

"There was significant loss from the flooding," said Cindy Loggins Wise, executive vice president of the Texas Pecan Growers Association, a Bryan-based industry group.

In Georgia, the nation's biggest pecan-producing state, the crop is also expected to be much smaller, but the culprit there is a long, hot, dry summer.

In Texas, the worst losses occurred near the Guadalupe River around Seguin and Cuero, and orchards were also damaged in the San Antonio and Colorado river basins.

Fortunately for consumers, there should be plenty of pecans for holiday candies, cakes and pies. Producers say nuts left over from the large 1997 Texas harvest have been in cold storage, and some distributors buy from out of state and Mexico to supplement their supplies.

Retail prices may be slightly higher, Mr. Pape said.

A pound of shelled pecan meat in a retail store typically cost customers $4.50 to $5 last year. That price likely will range from $5 to $6 this year, according to Mr. Pape.

At the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, where 800 seasonal workers are busy making 80,000 pounds of the bakery's mail-order fruitcake each day, vice president John Crawford didn't anticipate any impact on the pecans for his product from the South Texas flooding.

"We're looking at normal supply," Mr. Crawford said, noting that the bakery can buy pecans from 18 southeastern states that produce the nut.

Pecans are alternate-bearing trees, which means they produce large numbers of nuts every other year. In an average year about 60 million pounds of pecans are harvested in Texas, the second-largest pecan-producing state behind Georgia. Texas harvested 90 million pounds in a bumper crop last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had forecast 40 million pounds this year in Texas. Total figures aren't available, but the harvest may be only about 35 million pounds, Ms. Wise said.

Before the flooding in South Texas, weeks of dry, 100-degree weather also took a toll on pecans, and Ms. Wise said, "we have seen some very strange quality problems this year that people are attributing to the stress on the trees."

Some pecans contracted a shuck disease causing husks surrounding the nuts to open prematurely. Some nuts did not fill out well.

In Georgia, the harvest is expected to be 60 million pounds, a 45 percent reduction from last year. Nuts that are being harvested are of lower quality, said Tom Crocker, an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia.

"The nuts just didn't mature like we thought they would," Mr. Crocker said. "We'd hoped the rain from Hurricane Earl would help fill out the nuts. But it ended up just knocking a lot of them off the trees and even tearing off limbs."