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Mother Nature Shelled It Out During the 2007 Pecan Season

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Posted Jan. 1, 2008

The 2007 pecan season started off earlier than normal. Most trees budded out early because of the unseasonably warm late winter, seemingly starting the year off on a pathway to a bumper crop. Then on Easter weekend, a hard freeze swept down out of the north and damaged pecan and fruit crops across the southern states. The freeze was felt eastward into Georgia and as far south as the Hill Country in Texas. Early budding trees, both fruit and pecans, were damaged in areas across this region. Damage from the freeze was isolated in some areas, while total devastation was seen in other areas. The areas that suffered freezing temperatures for a sustained time still had trees that were able to put out secondary growths after recovering from the cold. Crop set, however, was lessened on these trees. Fortunately, we escaped a lot of this damage in most of the Noble Research Institute service area.

Mother Nature blessed us with above normal rainfalls during the spring and early summer, which aided in a very heavy crop set for most of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas. But along with the heavy rains came problems in the form of scab.

Scab is a fungus that grows best in moist, humid areas and is the most serious disease affecting pecans. The rains and warm summer months caused scab to appear in areas that are normally not affected, with many native growers reporting it on trees that they have never had problems with before.

Scab may damage all parts of the tree during the growing season, but the most devastating effect is on the nuts. Infection on the nuts results in reduced quality and economic loss to growers.

Scab is very expensive to control, and early treatment is needed before the infection becomes too severe. Once treatment is started, it must be continued to save the crop. With the heavy rains, growers that were trying to control scab had a hard time getting into the orchards to spray, and growers who were not familiar with scab did not notice the problem until it was too late.

Because of the rains during the spring and summer, trees that were not flooded were extremely healthy with numerous, large leaves and a heavy crop set. These two factors added up to additional weight that the trees had a difficult time handling. As the pecans started to fill, the weight increased, and several trees suffered major limb breakage. Some aggressive growers thinned the fruit from the trees to lighten the crop load, lessening the weight on the limbs and increasing the quality of their pecans.

With the heavy crop set and the rains stopping in many locations before and during nut fill, the quality of the pecans decreased. Along with lower quality, some growers had their first real experience with severe shuck decline. This is not a disease, but a physiological stress associated with high fruit loads and lack of moisture. When shuck decline occurs, the shuck deteriorates and may open prematurely. Fruit affected by this problem often appear black and may fall from the tree or remain in the cluster. Most affected nuts will be of poorer quality.

After all the problems that were experienced during the growing season, growers were ready to harvest what was left of the crop and salvage the year. The year that growers were looking forward to quickly became the year that most growers will want to forget. Well, there is always next year...