NEW ROADS — A widespread drought throughout much of the state over the summer has delayed the annual pecan harvest and cut the state’s predicted crop yield roughly in half, researchers said.
Experts predict the state will produce about 10 million pounds of pecans this year compared with 20 million pounds last year.
Additionally, the majority of pecans produced in Louisiana this year are likely to be significantly smaller than they normally are because of the dry conditions, said Randy Sanderlin, a pecan specialist with the LSU Agricultural Center.
Pecans grow in size in the early summer while their fillings, or kernels, transition from liquids to solids in the late summer and early fall, Sanderlin said.
Despite their decreased size, Sanderlin said, he expects the state’s pecan crop to be of average-to-good quality.
“We got just enough moisture for the kernels to properly fill out,” he said.
But smaller pecan size and the expected decrease in production will likely be offset as international demand has kept prices high, Sanderlin said.
Domestic prices have been on an upswing lately, but a growing appetite for pecans in China and Hong Kong has been the biggest factor in pushing prices from about $1.20 a pound to around $3 a pound in the past two years, Sanderlin said.
Those soaring prices are a boon to local pecan farmers like Andre Bergeron, co-owner of H.J. Bergeron Pecan Shelling Co. in New Roads.
Like other farmers in the area, Bergeron is still recovering from 2008 when Hurricane Gustav’s winds damaged about 65 percent of the pecan trees in southern Louisiana.
Bergeron, who has about 1,200 trees on his 400-acre farm, said he lost about 30 percent of his trees to Gustav.
This year’s drought, he said, is expected to cut production in his orchard by about 40 percent.
While farmers can expect a robust market for their pecans, many of them are facing a time crunch — the drought delayed the start of the harvest by at least two weeks, researchers said.
Mike Montgomery, of Bossier City, has 350 pecan trees on his 90-acre farm.
Montgomery said he usually begins harvesting in the early part of October.
“The early season is when we see our best prices,” he said.
This year, however, his pecans were slow to mature because of the drought, delaying the harvest by about two weeks.
“We’re coming up against the Chinese New Year,” he said. “To meet our deadline for the best prices, we need to have our pecans on the boat by mid-November. We’re really pushing the deadline right now.”
But most worrisome for Montgomery is the long-term effects the drought will have on pecan production.
Montgomery estimated he lost 7 percent of his trees during the drought.
In 2006, his best year, his harvest topped out at 100,000 pounds. This year, Montgomery said, he expects his trees will produce about 40,000 pounds.
“There was just a lot of stress on the trees, so we’re going to be seeing some long-term repercussions” he said. “We’ll still be making money this year because of the high prices, but we’ll probably have a very light crop — if any crop at all — next year.”