ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — With prices and demand for the state’s pecans high, this year’s predicted average to above-average yield is good news for growers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the 2012 crop will yield 2.5 million pounds of pecans. While this yield is down significantly from the 5 million pounds harvested in 2011, it is more in line with the state’s historical average of 2.42 million pounds.
David Ingram, plant pathologist with the Mississippi State University Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said higher prices encouraged people to harvest what they can.
“I think the reason our yield is going to be slightly higher than average this year is that we have a tremendous number of small orchards — 100 trees or less — and those people have gotten interested in trying to pick up those pecans and sell them,” Ingram said.
Ingram said harvest for this year’s crop is just beginning, but the quality looks good.
“November is usually our heaviest harvest month,” he said. “Sometimes harvest will run into December, and if it stays dry, pecans will still be falling off in January.”
Ingram said pecans are grown all over the state, but most are grown along the I-20 corridor and into the Delta. Growers avoided damage from Hurricane Isaac, which blew through the Southeast in late August.
“Through the years, hurricanes on the Gulf destroyed a lot of pecan trees in the southern part of the state,” he said. “The two biggest growers are just south of Raymond and around Clarksdale.”
Pecan prices have been increasing over the past three to four years.
“China and India are buying a lot of our U.S. pecan crop,” Ingram said. “We’ve convinced them they’re a healthy food to eat.”
John Michael Riley, agricultural economist with MSU’s Extension Service, said U.S. exports are projected to be up again this year to 64.63 million pounds, a 14 percent increase over 2011.
Mississippi’s forecasted 2.5 million pounds is just under 1 percent of the U.S. production of 308.6 million pounds.
“The current forecast is also well short of last year’s production of 5 million pounds — a 50 percent decrease, but last year’s production was rather high compared to normal,” Riley said.
Georgia remains the largest pecan grower, followed by the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
“The drought that plagued the Southwest last year helped push prices higher in 2011,” Riley said. “The drought is still intact but is less severe in the Southwest and Georgia, so prices have fallen back from the first half of the year. They are currently in the neighborhood of $6 per pound shelled.”
Riley said consumers anticipating holiday baking can expect to see prices rise late in the year as demand increases. Buy early to avoid the increase.
Randolph Smith, who has grown pecans for 35 years, leases his 450 acres of pecans to River Bend Pecan Farm. In-shell pecans are selling for $4.50 to $5.25 per pound, and shelled mammoth halves sell for $12.50 per pound.
“We’ve got a full crop, and the quality is good too,” Smith said. “We’re selling fresh pecans right off the tree and have five different varieties. The crop is early this year and available now.”
Smith said their Mississippi pecans are available at the farm store in Raymond and at the Bass Pecan retail outlets in Lumberton and Canton.