Pecan farmers are enjoying good demand and strong prices as harvest activities rebound from a sluggish start throughout the Pecan Belt.

The Pecan Belt, which spans 17 states from California through Texas and on through Florida, has been hampered by rainfall, which has delayed harvest activities. Texas is projected to lead U.S. pecan production this year with an estimated harvest of 50 million pounds, said Jose Peña, Texas Cooperative Extension economist in Uvalde. The delayed harvest has resulted in a slight increase in retail prices, but will be offset by record tree nut production in the United States, he said.

“(Consumers) should expect a slight increase (in the price of pecans),” Peña said. “Keep in mind prices will be kept in line with anticipated record production of other tree nut crops, such as almonds and walnuts.”

Georgia and Florida pecan producers suffered major losses this year. As much as 40 percent of the crop in some areas was lost due to hurricanes. In mid-September, Hurricane Ivan struck Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. Further damage occurred in Alabama and Georgia. Georgia’s pecan crop was about 45 to 60 days from harvest when Hurricane Frances moved in, Peña said.

New crop pecan halves have been priced at $6- to $7 per pound at the retail level, up from $4.50 to $5.50 per pound in 2003. But Peña said those prices may adjust as more pecans are harvested.

“Price bids for the early harvest of high-quality pecans are being influenced by gift pack and fund-raiser markets and for high-end products, such as fruit cakes, desserts, cookies and ice creams,” he said.

U.S. total tree nut production is projected at about 2.3 billion pounds for 2004, the highest on record, Peña said. Pecans are a favorite choice among consumers because of their flavor and use in traditional holiday baked goods, such as pies and cakes. They are also a healthy choice; pecans are cholesterol-and sodium-free and 25 percent higher in oleic acid than an equivalent serving of olive oil, Peña said.

High winds from hurricanes Frances and Ivan battered pecan trees in Georgia and Florida, with thousands of trees completely uprooted. Harvest activities have been delayed in all states due to weather.

“The pecans are maybe 10 percent to 15 percent above the price of almonds and walnuts, but they won’t be way out of line, certainly in terms of value,” Peña said. “Pecans are the healthiest nut on the market and secondly, they play an important role in providing a festive environment to consumers with pecan pies (during the holiday season.)”

Excellent quality pecans are bringing $1.50 per pound to $2 per pound at the farm level, depending on the variety and quality, Peña said. The initial supply forecast for 2004 is down significantly, he said, and may decrease even further as more accurate loss estimates are made as a result of the recent hurricanes.

In Texas, the pecan harvest is getting into full swing, Peña said, while the states further west are slightly behind schedule. “Most of the states are reporting excellent quality,” he said. “About 72 percent (136.6 million pounds) of the U.S. crop is forecast to be produced in western states.” Harvest estimates for those states are: · Texas, 50 million pounds · Arizona, 13 million pounds · California, 2.2 million pounds · Kansas, 2.5 million pounds · New Mexico, 37 million pounds · Oklahoma, 28 million pounds

Since 1995, average annual domestic consumption of pecans has averaged 278 million pounds and average exports since 1993 are 54.1 million pounds, Peña said. He noted the pecan market collapse of 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In contrast, Peña notes the economy is continuing to recover.

“This means improved consumer demand, as evidenced so far this season for good quality products, especially healthy commodities such as pecans.”