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U.S. Pecan Growers Face Devastating Storms, Tariff Trouble

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U.S. pecan growers raised concerns when China announced in July that it would increase the tariff on U.S. pecans to 47 percent. China is a major player in the export market for U.S. pecan growers, who produce about 260 to 300 million pounds of pecans each year and supply about 60 percent of the world’s pecans.

There are still many questions to be answered on how the tariff will impact individual growers and overall production. It’s possible the increased tariff will result in higher prices for Chinese consumers and less demand for U.S. pecans.

History has shown that the pecan industry is resilient, but the tariff trouble is proving to be just one hurdle the U.S. pecan industry needs to overcome.

Thanks to recent storms, pecan growers now have bigger problems.

Hurricane Michael Hits Georgia Growers

In October, Hurricane Michael made landfall in Georgia and wiped out more than half of the state’s total pecan crop.

Georgia, on average, produces 86.4 million pounds of pecans each year, making it the top pecan-producing state in the nation. About 33 percent of U.S. pecans are grown in Georgia.

Lenny Wells, University of Georgia Extension horticulture and pecan specialist, says that an estimated 741,285 pecan trees, or about 30 percent of Georgia’s pecan production, were lost to the hurricane. Total economic loss to Georgia’s pecan industry from the hurricane is $560 million: $100 million from crop loss, $260 million from tree loss and $200 million from future income loss.

It’s important for growers to look toward replanting. However, effects of the damage will last at least 10 to 15 more years, totaling 30 to 35 million pounds of pecan production lost in Georgia alone.

As we move into harvest season, which typically spans from September to November, growers in the affected areas are now cleaning up debris of downed trees in hopes of salvaging a few hundred pounds of pecans.

Floods Damage Pecan Texas Orchards

Further west, most of Texas has received increased rainfall since September. The Colorado River, which starts south of Lubbock and flows southeast through San Angelo and Austin to the Gulf of Mexico, reached flood stage in mid-October, causing severe floods and major damage to pecan orchards across the Hill Country area (the heart of Texas pecan production).

Pecan tree damage and production losses are still being assessed as the flood waters recede.

Texas ranks third in the U.S. for pecan production. On average, the state produces 49 million pounds of pecans, or nearly 20 percent of the national production.

Infographic - Average Annual Production: State Pecan Production for Native and Improved Pecans - Pecan production average from 2000-2017. Source USDA Economic Research Service.

Supply Drops as Holidays Approach

Together, Georgia and Texas produce an average of 135 million pounds, or more than half of country’s pecan crop. Because of the devastating storms in the Southeast and flooding in Texas, a large supply of pecans will not be available as the holidays approach this year. Most of the pecans you find in holiday gift boxes are Mammoth and Extra Mammoth pecans, which are primarily grown in the Southeast areas that were affected by Hurricane Michael.

Growers will be faced with crop losses this year, and those who have lost trees will continue to experience loss in the years to come. Tree nurseries are already selling out of pecan trees into 2020, according to Wells. And once a tree is planted, it takes between 7 and 10 years for it to produce a full supply of nuts.

The tariff increases continue to loom in our minds as a challenge for the future. But right now, many U.S. pecan growers are just hoping to be able to stay in production.

For more information about United States pecan production, please visit www.uspecans.org.

Charles Rohla, Ph.D., serves as the manager of pecan systems. He oversees pecan research, consultation and operations. He joined Noble in 2006. He is actively involved with several state and national pecan and agriculture organizations. He has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, a master’s degree in agricultural education and a Ph.D. in crop science from Oklahoma State University. He owns a farm where he produces hay, pecans, show horses, cattle and pigs. He can be found on LinkedIn.

Charlie Graham, Ph.D.
Senior Pecan Specialist