If there is a silver lining to the devastating impact Hurricane Michael had on Georgia’s pecan producers – an estimated 27,455 pecan acres destroyed – it’s that producers can replant their orchards with new varieties that cost less to grow. This could make Georgia pecan growers more competitive with growers in western states and Mexico.
“The hurricane took down a lot of old, big trees. It gives us a chance to replace older trees with newer varieties that have good scab resistance and produce a higher quality pecan,” Lenny Wells, UGA Extension pecan specialist said. “We need to start moving away from some of these old varieties. Even though everyone wants big yields, we need to start focusing on quality.”
Avalon, Caddo, Creek, Excel, Lakota, Oconee and Sumner are some of the varieties Wells recommended when speaking at the Georgia Pecan Growers Association annual meeting in March.
“Plant pecan cultivars that have a decent level of scab resistance and better-quality nuts than Stuart or Desirable. You want a tree that produces a percent kernel in the mid 50s or better” Wells said. “We need to stop planting Desirables.”
Growers who opt to plant a scab– susceptible pecan variety should choose one that has a short season with an early harvest date like Caddo or Pawnee, Wells said.
While the recent trend in planting new pecan orchards has been to plant more trees per acre, Wells cautioned against this practice as it results in increased disease and insect pressure for the trees.
“Tighter spacings have the potential to increase early yield for trees but it requires more input costs to produce a crop due to increased sprayings needed to control insects and disease and keeping the trees hedged,” Wells said.
He recommends planting orchards with tree spacings of 30x50, 40x40, 25x50, 30x60 or 46x46 to give trees adequate sunlight and air flow to reduce disease and insect pressure.
“The Mexican pecan crop is probably the biggest problem U.S. pecan growers have right now,” Wells said.
Mexican pecan production has risen from 270 million pounds on 278,176 acres in 2015 to nearly 300 million pounds in 2018. Mexican growers are planting about 10,000 new acres each year, Wells said. Production costs in Mexico are about $860/acre compared to about $1,500/acre for Georgia growers.
Efforts the U.S. Pecan Growers Council is making to secure new trade markets overseas and promotion campaigns the American Pecan Council is doing to teach U.S. consumers that pecans are a healthy snack nut are crucial for U.S. growers overcoming the competition from Mexico and Chinese tariffs, Wells said.