Pecan quality and quantities are exceeding early expectations, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said the early pecan crop estimate was for a below-average year. But timely late-season rains and plenty of sunshine helped kernel production.

“Pecans were originally predicted to be off somewhat, but they’ve been better than expected with regard to yields and especially quality,” he said. “It was a stressful summer in Southwest Texas, but as long as growers had plenty of irrigation water, it looks like quality has been superior to last year.”

Stein said kernel quality was much better than last year when late-season rains and cloudy skies hurt pecans as they were filling.

Early freeze not a problem, yet

This year, an early freeze at the end of October caused some concerns because pecans froze with shucks still unopened in late-maturing varieties like Choctaws and Kiowas, Stein said. Once unopened pecans freeze, they must be opened physically, which translates into more harvest labor.

“I think most of those pecans were mature enough to be OK,” he said. “I haven’t heard about any major problems with the kernels associated with freeze damage.”

Stein said freezing temperatures “caught the trees off guard” because temperatures swung from warm to cold so quickly. The combination of dewy mornings and extreme foliage drops were causing some issues with harvesting nuts on the ground.

The early leaf drops could also affect the 2020 crop, he said. Typically, trees shed leaves around Thanksgiving, which provides trees several weeks to store energy and food before going dormant.

“It’s not uncommon to have freezes at Halloween, but I think this year trees weren’t acclimated to the cold,” he said. “Luckily we haven’t heard of any major issues with this year’s crop. Now, what it means for next year, who knows? But typically, we see a drop in production when trees get less recovery time to store up food and energy for next year.”

So-so prices

Despite good quality, pecan prices have been mediocre this season, “not bad, but not good either,” Stein said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported retail and holiday gift markets were steady and pecan demand was strong. The commercial/domestic market softened, and some domestic buyers were waiting to see if the price will continue to decline before committing to purchase pecans.

The American Pecan Board reported stable pecan prices and that growers had weathered the ongoing trade war with China relatively well as global demand continues to grow.

“The tariff situation with China is still not resolved, and that hurts U.S. exports and ultimately prices for producers,” Stein said. “Growing demand from the Chinese market had been a game-changer for pecan producers over the last decade.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Districts

CENTRAL: Temperatures were extremely cold with some light rain before turning warmer. Low temperatures were in the 20s for two days. Wheat planting continued with good weather conditions. There were a few cotton fields remaining. Cattle were in poor to good condition, and producers were feeding hay early this year. Cattle markets were holding strong, and sheep and goats experienced a slight increase. Pastures were in poor condition because of earlier-than-normal freezing temperatures. Nearly all counties reported short soil moisture levels and fair overall rangeland and pasture conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Wheat planting neared completion in most areas. Feeding supplemental hay to stockers awaiting wheat growth was common. Cotton harvest was in full swing.

COASTAL BEND: Another round of light rainfall over the past week continued to keep soil moisture conditions favorable. Nearly all cotton was harvested. Weather prevented progress on fall field work in cotton and grain fields. Producers looked for more hay locally, and hay sales were limited or seeing price increases in areas where frost occurred. Many producers were feeding hay and protein supplements. Livestock were in good condition, and markets were seeing runs of weaned calves and cull cows. Pecan harvest continued with good yields only coming from irrigated orchards.

EAST: Some producers were still finishing up their last cutting of hay, while most counties reported pastures had gone dormant. Winter pastures were doing well. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels remained adequate. Winter weather hit hard with rain, wind and cold temperatures. Livestock were in fair to good condition and received supplemental feed. Cattle prices were down. Timber prices increased over the past few months. Wild pigs continued to be active and highly destructive.

SOUTH PLAINS: Very little moisture was received. Producers continued to harvest crops before any measurable snowfall happened. Cotton harvest was at the halfway point with yields about 30-50% off from what was expected. Some grain crops remained in fields, but most were harvested. Wheat was planted, and more plantings were expected following cotton. Pastures were OK with most cattle grazing wheat.

PANHANDLE: The weather was mildly warmer. All corn was harvested. Cotton and sorghum harvests were almost complete. Winter wheat emerged in most areas and was in fair condition. Pasture and rangelands were in good to fair condition in southern parts of the district and in poor condition in northeast areas. Subsoil and topsoil levels were adequate and short.

NORTH: Topsoil moisture levels were mostly adequate to short. No moisture was reported. Fields were slow to dry, but farmers and ranchers hoped to plant wheat as soon as conditions allowed. Temperatures dropped to around 20 degrees for several nights with very strong winds across the entire district. The strong wind  thrashed some pecan orchards, which were reporting a pretty good crop this year. Wheat plantings were 65-70% complete. Emerged wheat, oats, ryegrass and other winter pastures were about 2-3 inches tall with very little growth so far. Most ranchers had weaned their calves. Prices at market have not been good this fall. Weaned calves were priced low, and producers wondered if long-weaned calves would do any better once they go to market.

FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged between highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 20s. Only trace amounts of rain were reported. Some freezing rain was reported. Many producers were approaching the midway point of harvest while others just started. Pima and upland cotton were being harvested, and initial yields were about average. Western Schley pecans were dropping and appeared to be average. Chances of rain might delay both cotton and pecan harvests. The pecan harvest was also slowed by a hard freeze that kept most pecans in their shucks or on trees. Wheat planting was very slow as most growers were waiting on rain. Growers were waiting on pecans to dry down and fall. Pastures were very dry with little to no forage. Livestock conditions were fair due to stress from temperature changes. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife.

WEST CENTRAL: Temperatures were relatively cool but warmed late. Recent rains helped wheat plantings. Some emergence occurred on dryland acres. Planting resumed in most areas. Cotton harvest resumed following rains. Marginal yields were reported in many areas. Some acres continued to be destroyed due to low yields. The cattle market opened the week with more demand on calves and yearlings in ideal condition. Stocker steers and heifers sold $3-$5 higher per hundredweight. Feeder steers, heifers, bulls, pairs and bred cows all sold steady. Packer cows sold $2 higher.

SOUTHEAST: No report.

SOUTHWEST: Temperatures continued to be cooler than normal. Moisture helped pasture and rangeland conditions improve in some locations. However, others remained dry with burn bans still in effect. Winter wheat and oats looked good in areas that received moisture. Traces of precipitation were encouraging for ryegrass. Livestock were in fair condition with supplemental feeding.

SOUTH: Cool weather conditions with short to adequate soil moisture levels were reported. Soils were holding moisture better due to cooler temperatures. Some rainfall was reported. Zapata County reported up to 2 inches of rainfall in some areas. Very little peanut harvesting occurred due to rainfall. Wheat and oat planting also slowed down due to weather. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good and improving in some areas. Livestock supplemental feeding continued but was reduced in some areas. Vegetable crops were done for the season in some areas, and the pecan orchards were reporting a good harvest. Cabbage and spinach made good progress. Spinach harvest was expected to begin soon. Cattle prices continued to be low.

Source: Texas AgriLife Extension