THE PECAN harvest is gaining momentum in south Texas, but at best, a fair crop is expected, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service reports.

"A lot of Texas growers are questioning the quality because of the drought," Extension agent Bill Ree said. "It has been so hot and dry. Even with irrigation, the crop needed late-season moisture in July, August and September to fill out the nut size and kernel."

This year's drought has led to $595 million in overall agricultural losses in Texas, according to Extension economists. Cindy Wise, executive vice president of the Texas Pecan Growers' Association, said it is too early to determine the drought's impact on pecans.

"We don't yet know the extent of the drought's effect," she said. "This is going to be a light year anyway, because last year there was such a heavy crop."

Wise said this is an off year for pecans, and 36 million pounds are expected in Texas. Pecan trees produce in cycles, and in an off year, native pecans will produce at a lower level to allow the trees to replenish themselves. She said early harvest reports for Pawnee and Wichita varieties in south Texas are positive.

"Those growers who have harvested are saying quality looks good."

District Extension director Charles Neeb said pecans are developing well in most parts of Far West Texas. "The black pecan aphid did not materialize as expected," he said, "although shuck worm damage is appearing in some counties."

District Extension director Scott Durham said nut development continues for pecans in West Central Texas. "However, leaves are burning up," he said. "And some trees have not made it through the drought."

Texas is the second largest producer of pecans in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.