Late freeze then high temps, drought made for poor pecan crop ’23

Published 10:59 am Friday, November 3, 2023

By Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Extension Service

A late freeze, high summertime temperatures and a devastating drought mean a poor pecan crop for Mississippi in 2023.

Eric Stafne, fruit and nut specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said weather stacked the odds against a good crop this year.

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“Despite the late freeze, some trees still set a decent crop, but the heat and drought caused poor nut fill and dropped immature nuts during the summer,” Stafne said. “The drought could have carryover effects into next year, too, by reducing development of fruiting buds.”

Max Draughn, president of the Mississippi Pecan Growers Association and owner of Bass Pecan Nursery and Pecan Hill Farms in Raymond, said the late freeze in March destroyed any blooms that were on the trees.

“This affected the middle part of the state the most and resulted in a short crop for those areas,” Draughn said. “Overall, the quantity of nuts is there but quality is lacking.”

Although rains were abundant early in the year, the drought from July on caused problems throughout the state.

“The drought caused trees to abort and drop nuts in July, August and September, further reducing our crop in Mississippi. Some pecans will not fill out and produce good kernels due to lack of water,” Draughn said. “Some kernels will be shriveled to a wafer-like state, kernel color will be dark, and some nuts will have what looks like fuzz on the top of the kernel in trees that are starved for water.”

About 10 percent of the state’s pecan orchards are irrigated and were better able to deal with the drought, he said, but the high temperatures that accompanied the drought caused other problems.

“The high heat caused a darkening of the pecan kernels and an appearance of vein lines in the kernels,” Draughn said. “There was too much heat for too long in August this year.”

Art Sanders, owner of Lindy’s Pecans in Clay County, said his 800 trees are struggling because of this year’s environmental factors.

“It looks like I will lose 60 percent of my little crop, and I know of one other grower who will not have any,” Sanders said.

In 1999, Sanders bought the orchard that was planted in 1987 but neglected. Six years ago, he began rehabilitating the orchard, adding fertilizer to the soil, spraying for diseases and maintaining the plants. Irrigation is on his wish list.

“When that hot spell came through with no rain, my trees were suffering with a lot of stress on them,” Sanders said. “This is probably going to be one of my worst years.”

Draughn said Mississippi has 800 pecan orchards, totaling 17,000 acres of pecan trees. Orchard sizes range from two acres to about 600 acres. The last 10 years has seen a renewed interest in planting pecan orchards.

“The majority of these new orchards are small, being 50 acres or less,” Draughn said. “New orchards are embracing advancement in the pecan industry by planting newer disease-resistant, low-input orchards and adding practices such as irrigation to their orchards to enhance production and quality of the pecans.”