Pecans not so plentiful|Mother Nature reduces yield by 25 percent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 5, 2008

 Similar to farmers of corn, soybeans and cotton, those who manage pecan orchards in the Vicksburg area are concerned about low yields as they prepare to harvest following a spring freeze, summer drought and active fall hurricane season. 

“It was a short crop to start out with this year, and now it’s gotten even shorter,” said 91-year-old Bob Williams, who has been harvesting pecans in Newellton, La., for 64 years. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You just can’t control the weather.”

The pecan industry in Mississippi had hoped for high yields of the nuts early this year — estimating 1 million pounds could be produced — however, estimates have been reduced by about 25 percent.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

That’s about what Williams expects to get out of his 400 acres of pecan trees when he begins harvesting in early November. He should be able to fill his wholesale orders, which come from all corners of the country, as well as Canada and Europe. However, he is concerned his retail business, which includes many customers in Vicksburg, will be off this year.

“We should be able to get about 75 percent of what we would normally yield,” said Williams, who bought his first orchard and started Williams Pecan Farms in 1947. “That won’t leave a lot left over to sell here at the farm.”

Mild weather in February and March caused many pecan trees to flower a few weeks earlier than normal. However, a cold snap in mid-April caused spotty freezing of pollinating pecans, damaging some trees but leaving others unharmed.

“We were going to have a good crop, but about 1/3 of our acreage got hurt in the freeze,” said Randolph Smith, who, along with his sisters, owns Smith’s Pecans in Raymond. “We normally produce about 250,000 pounds of pecans, but it looks like we’re going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 pounds this year.”

Smith said he could only recall two other freezes in the past 25 years that affected his yields. Along with the freeze, a July drought and an extremely rainy August also affected the maturing pecans.

“It rained every day in August, which rotted out some beans,” said Williams.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike extensively damaged pecan orchards in central and southern Louisiana. While Williams said his trees fared better comparatively, he still had some damaged limbs and even some uprooted trees.

“Not that many pecans blew off the trees, but they banged against each other quite a bit,” he said. “That causes them to bruise and try to open up early, and those ain’t no good.”