Originally created 01/11/00

Pecan crop rebounds this season



STATESBORO, Ga. -- Many cooks in the coastal Georgia area paid a little more to make homemade pecan pie this Christmas. But next year should be better because of this year's good harvest.

The current high prices are a lingering effect of 1998's disastrous crop, which depleted the supply of stored pecans. This year's successful crop, though slightly below average, will ease the supply crunch.

The 90 million-pound harvest, completed in December, is more than double last year's 40 million-pound crop. But it's about 10 million pounds less than was predicted in October.

This year's drought hurt some pecan trees. That, combined with the drought-devastated crop of 1998, lowered inventories. That means higher prices at groceries and farmers' markets.

Pecan trees usually bear nuts every other year. But new research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may help pecan growers beat that problem.

A Texas variety, called Hopi, bears fruit every year. It was developed from a cross between Schley, a popular commercial variety, and McCulley, a native variety in central Texas.

Nurseries will get starter trees in February. It is unknown when they will be widely available to growers.

Becky Bashlor, whose family runs Polk's Produce in Savannah, said her market's pecans are high quality and plentiful, but more expensive than she'd hoped.

"I thought the price would've gone down this year, but it hasn't," she said.

Shelled pecans at Polk's sell for $4.99 a pound; pecans in the hull cost $1.89 a pound.

That's still better than the statewide average, said Wojciech Florkowski, a University of Georgia agricultural economist.

"This year, if you can get shelled pecans for $6 a pound, that's good," he said. "The prices are quickly moving up into the $7 range."

The problem is the devastating 1998 crop, which was hit by cold weather in its pollenating stage and then drought when the nuts developed.

"Despite the decent crop this year, prices will stay relatively high because of the low carry-over inventory from last year," Mr. Florkowski said. "The retail prices are going to be at least as high as last year's prices."

In spite of higher prices, retail pecan products are booming in Savannah. River Street Sweets general manager Chris Myers said pecan wholesale prices are down from last year, while sales continue to rise.

"Our numbers are up. It's growing with the tourism," he said.