Hurricane Irma’s winds affected a lot of people and businesses, including Georgia’s pecan growers. “We lost about 500 trees and approximately 30 percent of our 2017 crop,” said Scott Hudson, with Hudson Pecan. “But it could have been worse. Our homes and families are safe and that’s what matters most. Hudson said that after clean up, the trees will be replaced and any damages repaired. “The good news is we will able to meet our customers needs for this fall and next year, both in the U.S. and internationally,” he said.
Read more below about how Hurricane Irma affected Georgia’s pecan orchards and the 2107 crop:
By: Megan Durisin (Bloomberg.com)
September 14, 2017, 7:00 PM EDT September 15, 2017, 9:38 AM EDT
Hurricane Irma’s come and gone, but her aftermath will continue to upend millions of lives and even put Thanksgiving pies at risk.
The storm tore through pecan orchards in Georgia, the No. 1 U.S. grower, just a few weeks before the crop is usually harvested. As much as 30 percent of production may have been lost after high winds sent pods flying off branches and blew down trees that in some cases measure several stories high, said Lenny Wells, a professor and pecan specialist at University of Georgia in Tifton.
At Lamar Pecan Company in Hawkinsville, the strong gusts toppled 920 trees, out of about 25,000. Close to a fifth of the operation’s crop may be lost, said R.G. Lamar, whose father and grandfather started the farm about four decades ago. He spent the day after the storm surveying damage in 40 orchards across six counties. It’s the most trees ever lost in one storm, and many that blew over were younger plants less than 15 years old.
“I was heartbroken,” Lamar said. “You work so hard to try to keep the orchards in good repair. I’ve seen wind that strong, but never sustained for that much time.”
While pecans are a niche crop — the nuts are often associated with holiday desserts — they’re among Georgia’s top agricultural commodities. National farm prices were already at the highest on record, averaging $2.59 a pound in the marketing year that ended in August 2016, the latest government data show. The gains came amid a surge in demand for U.S. exports in the past decade. Supply damage from Irma could spell even pricier pies for Thanksgiving feasters, who will celebrate the American holiday on Nov. 23 this year.
Georgia accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of national output, and nearly all of the state’s orchards were affected by the hurricane, said Samantha McLeod, executive director of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association. Additional damage could occur from bruising on nuts that were knocked around by the wind, Christine Lensing, a senior economist at Greenwood Village, Colorado-based CoBank, said in an email. The storm may also trim output in the coming year because of the long-lasting damage to trees.
After slamming into Florida on Sept. 10, Irma’s wrath headed north to Georgia, bringing sustained winds of 20 to 40 miles per hour with gusts as high as 75 (120 kilometers), according to University of Georgia Extension. That made it “the most damaging wind event ever seen by the Georgia pecan industry,” the university group said in statement on its website.
“This storm, it’s like it was targeting pecan orchards,” said Jeb Barrow, the president of the Georgia growers group who also farms about 1,100 acres of the nuts in Jefferson and Burke counties. At his operation, about 400 trees were uprooted and expected yields of about 1,500 pounds an acre may drop by 300 pounds. Hurricanes don’t often blow far enough inland to cause this much damage to the state’s crops, he said.
Pecan trees can produce for decades. Some in the state are 100 years old. Many of the nuts flung to the ground this week are too young to be salvaged. To compound the problem, any new trees planted won’t bear a crop for about five to seven years.
“It looks like a logging yard,” Trent Mason said of the orchards at Fort Valley-based Mason Pecans, which lost between 3,000 and 4,000 trees on the farm’s 3,000 acres, where he’s a partner. “All you see is just tree after tree laid over. We’ll clean up and harvest what’s left.”
Last year, U.S. pecan farmers grew 269,000 pounds of the nuts, the most in four years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. More than half of Georgia’s pecans are shipped overseas, McLeod of the growers group said.
Luckily for pie lovers, frozen stockpiles of the nut at the end of July were higher than a year earlier, which can cushion supply damage. Production from Texas and New Mexico — the other leading U.S. producers — can also help to offset losses from Irma. USDA typically makes an estimate of national output in October.
Several of the Georgia’s other signature crops have also been pummeled this season. As much as 80 percent of its blueberries and two-thirds of peaches were lost in a March freeze.
“We were poised for a very productive season, but now it will approach devastation for many of our growers,” said Gary Black, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner. “We’re going to have very far-reaching effects in the pecan industry.”
Pecans Were Popular From the Start
The history of pecans can be traced back to the 16th century. The only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species. The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents. Pecans were favored because they were accessible to waterways, easier to shell than other North American nut species and of course, for their great taste.
Because wild pecans were readily available, many Native American tribes in the U.S. and Mexico used the wild pecan as a major food source during autumn. It is speculated that pecans were used to produce a fermented intoxicating drink called “Powcohicora” (where the word “hickory” comes from). It also is said that Native Americans first cultivated the pecan tree.
Presidents Washington and Jefferson Loved Pecans, Too!
One of the first known cultivated pecan tree plantings, by Spanish colonists and Franciscans in northern Mexico, appears to have taken place in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s. These plantings are documented to around 1711—about 60 years before the first recorded planting by U.S. colonists.
The first U.S. pecan planting took place in Long Island, NY in 1772. By the late 1700’s, pecans from the northern range reached the English portion of the Atlantic Seaboard and were planted in the gardens of easterners such as George Washington (1775) and Thomas Jefferson (1779). Settlers were also planting pecans in community gardens along the Gulf Coast at this time.
In the late 1770’s, the economic potential of pecans was realized by French and Spanish colonists settling along the Gulf of Mexico. By 1802, the French were exporting pecans to the West Indies—although it is speculated that pecans were exported to the West Indies and Spain earlier by Spanish colonists in northern Mexico. By 1805, advertisements in London said that the pecan was “…a tree meriting attention as a cultivated crop.”
The Birth of an Industry
New Orleans, located near the mouth of the Mississippi River, became very important to the marketing of pecans. The city had a natural market as well as an avenue for redistributing pecans to other parts of the U.S. and the world. The New Orleans market gained local interest in planting orchards, which stimulated the adaptation of vegetative propagation techniques and led to the demand for trees that produce superior nuts.
During the 1700’s and the early 1800’s, the pecan became an item of commerce for the American colonists and the pecan industry was born. (In San Antonio, the wild pecan harvest was more valuable than popular row crops like cotton!)
Pecan groves (trees established by natural forces) and orchards (trees planted by man) consisted of diverse nuts with various sizes, shapes, shell characteristics, flavor, fruiting ages and ripening dates. In the midst of this variability, there was the occasional discovery of a wild tree with unusually large, thin-shelled nuts, which were in high demand by customers.
In 1822, Abner Landrum of South Carolina discovered a pecan budding technique, which provided a way to graft plants derived from superior wild selections (or, in other words, to unite with a growing plant by placing in close contact). However, this invention was lost or overlooked until 1876 when an African-American slave gardener from Louisiana (named Antoine) successfully propagated pecans by grafting a superior wild pecan to seedling pecan stocks. Antoine’s clone was named “Centennial” because it won the Best Pecan Exhibited award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. His 1876 planting, which eventually became 126 Centennial trees, was the first official planting of improved pecans.
The successful use of grafting techniques led to grafted orchards of superior genotypes and proved to be a milestone for the pecan industry. The adoption of these techniques was slow and had little commercial impact—until the 1880’s when Louisiana and Texas nurserymen learned of pecan grafting and began propagation on a commercial level.
Thus was the start of a booming pecan growing and shelling industry!
1600’s – 1700’s
Source: Pecan Technology, Edited by Charles R. Santerre, http://www.ilovepecans.org/pecans-101/history-of-pecans/