Originally created 10/03/00

Showers boost yield of pecans



A pecan network runs across the Southern states, and Francis Tracy stays tapped in.

Pecan shellers, distributors, pickers and packers survey orchards and share crop reports and predictions from the pecan-producing states, especially Georgia - ordinarily the largest producer.

Mr. Tracy, the owner of Harlem-based Tracy-Luckey Inc., keeps up with the news, and until September, it wasn't good.

But then the rains came. Two tropical storms dumped enough water on south Georgia to save much of the crop.

South Georgia orchards got 3 to 5 inches of rain during the first two weeks of September, part of it remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon. Tropical Storm Helene followed a week later.

Those weeks of late summer rain might have saved the state about $2 million in pecans, said Mark Goodyear, president of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association. And the crop might have been increased by 5 million to 10 million pounds.

The rain will mean plumper pecans, the condition of which has an effect on many businesses, Mr. Tracy said.

Tracy-Luckey purchased about $10 million worth of the nuts last year and sold 30-pound cartons to bakeries, ice cream manufacturers, candy companies and wholesale distributors nationwide.

Mr. Tracy was expecting a smaller yield this year, even before the drought. He said last year's large crop almost guaranteed this year's would be smaller because crop abundance tends to go from one extreme to the other each year.

"So, with the drought in the spring and most of the summer, we really were fearful that there wouldn't be anymore than a really small crop," he said.

About 80 million pounds of pecans are expected to be harvested this fall, down from 100 million pounds last year. The official U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate will be released next month.

The pecan crop was one of few that might fare well after the summer's drought.

For others the downpour came too late. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said the state suffered about $700 million in total crop damages this year.

"(The rains) came a little bit late to give us satisfactory recovery," he said. Each county in the state, most of which were drought-stricken, was declared a federal disaster area this summer.

Ordinarily, the cotton crop brings the state $600 million. Peanuts usually bring $400 million, and tobacco and pecans provide $100 million each.

"We got some pretty good crops. We got some pretty poor crops, and we got some that is in terrible shape," Mr. Irvin said. "It's harvest time, and we are just trying to harvest what we got."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.