"It looks like we are going to have a better crop than what we first thought," said Neal Alexander, San Saba County Extension agent. "Yields should be better."

"We are looking forward to a good year," said Cindy Wise, executive vice president of the Texas Pecan Growers Association. "We are looking for a slightly earlier harvest, and if it can just stay dry for a little while longer, we may see nuts on the market a little earlier than usual."

Weather has restricted harvesting efforts in some parts of the state.

"All the recent rains have slowed down the harvest, but most of the growers in the south part of the state have been harvesting for almost a month now," Wise said.

Heavy machinery can tear up the soil in a wet orchard, so most farmers wait until the ground has dried after wet weather.

One benefit of the rain has been an earlier start to the harvest. Wet weather and cooler temperatures helped the shucks open sooner, Wise said.

"Prices for the good quality pecans have been about $1.50 to $1.75 a pound, depending on the variety and the quality," Wise said, about typical for this time of the year.

Last year, pecan producers received higher prices because total tree nut production in the U.S. was down, which helped bolster the market.

"There was no increase in prices [this year] because of a shortage," Wise said, noting the prices this year were certainly not bad.

She said most of the pecans harvested in the early part of the year are used for the gift pack market, because they are usually of a higher quality.

The Texas Agricultural Statistics Service is estimating 70 million pounds of pecans will be harvested in 2003, up from the 40 million harvested last year.

A possible explanation for the healthy yields may be the absence of disease and insect problems this year.

"Texas has not had any major problems with disease. However, the southeastern part of the U.S. has," Wise said.

She said constant rain was the culprit behind scab infestations in states such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The disease affects pecans by allowing a fungus to grow on the nuts and the leaves. It is an on-going problem in any humid area, but can be easily controlled.

Georgia is considered the No. 1 pecan-producing state in the nation.

Texas, with commercial pecan operations located throughout the state, ranks second in most years.

Robert Kwiatkowski, a pecan producer in Mumford, says he expects his yields to be about average this year.

"I am going to get started harvesting probably today, since the fields are finally dry enough to get into. We have had some insect pressure from shuckworms, which isn't too common. Still, yields should be OK," he said.

Joe Pena, Extension economist in Uvalde, said the pecan harvest in Southwest Texas was delayed by fall rains, but is gradually gaining momentum and is doing well.

The pecan harvest in Pecos County has begun on the early maturing Pawnee variety, but will not get into full swing until after a hard freeze defoliates the trees, said Jed Elrod, Pecos County Extension agent.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com