The Texas pecan crop looks heavy, and amid good growing conditions and few disease and pest problems, growers are being urged to thin the crop later this summer to avoid a harvest of poor-quality nuts, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Monte Nesbitt, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, College Station, said indicators suggest a stronger, more uniform crop than in the last several years.
In the last decade, Texas has produced 60 million pounds twice, in 2009 and 2014, and 70 million once in 2010, he said. In five other years in that timeframe, Texas produced 28 million to 39 million pounds.
With commercial producers in all of the major production areas reporting good growing conditions and fewer disease and pest issues, Nesbitt said the crop could be closer to 70 million pounds this year.
"Texas is capable of producing 100 million pounds if everything were to go perfect, but we never seem to get there because of drought or pests, or one region will do poorly because of too few chill hours or a spring frost or any number of odd scenarios," he said. "This year everything appears to be lining up to put us back on track for the 70 million-pound production level."
The highest production year recorded for the state was 1979, when Texas' pecan harvest totaled 91 million pounds, he said. Native pecan production alone amounted to 70 million pounds.
Nesbitt said Texas shifted in the 1980s from an industry dominated by native trees to one that began to be defined more by its improved pecans grown in planted orchards.
"The interest in natives followed decades of low market prices for the smaller, harder-shelled version of pecans," he said. "With a stable and steadily growing improved pecan industry in place, if interest in natives were to be significantly rekindled, Texas could reach that 100-million-pound mark, if not more."
It's still early in the Texas pecan crop's progress, Nesbitt said, but growers have passed the natural nut drop period and the first generation of pecan nut casebearer, a crop-destroying insect, with a large crop still in place.
Growers will now be watching for pecan scab, a rain-driven fungal disease and a second round of pecan nut casebearer, but also should be considering what heavy outputs can do to pecan quality and trees, he said.
Pecan nut casebearer can make a significant dent in production, ruining up to half or more in any one location, without well-timed preventative sprays, Nesbitt said. In a year like this, he said that might not be a bad thing, because it naturally thins the crop. If on the other hand growers go for maximum crop protection against casebearer, they are faced with doing some work with a trunk shaker.
"It's hard to convince growers to think about thinning the crop after they've experienced a few bad years, but over-cropping stress is real," he said. "Heavy crops increase nutrient and water demands and can lead to poor kernel fill and a series of problems."
Nesbitt recommends making careful observations of the percentage of fruiting branches with nuts on them. Trees bearing 80 percent or higher should be thinned down to 50-60 percent in late July to early August with the same shaker they use at harvest.
"It's a finesse job to not over-thin, but research has shown higher kernel quality, better prices and better return crop next year," he said.
Crop management, from pest and disease control to irrigation and thinning, are standard practices on most commercial orchards in major production areas. West Texas, from Fort Stockton to El Paso, continues to be the top pecan-producing area in the state, with other areas like Central Texas, East Texas and the Wintergarden area all contributing to the overall crop.
Nesbitt said the second half of the growing season, as kernels fill out from August to October, will determine crop quality.
"When it comes to quality, we have a long way to go," Nesbitt said. "There are a number of potential problems ahead, but the crop is off to a good start."
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Districts
CENTRAL: Dry conditions continued. Corn and sorghum were not producing. Dryland corn was harvested for silage. Producers do not expect a timely second cutting on dryland Bermuda grass. Hay prices were climbing fast. Some producers were running out of grass in pastures and water in tanks. Cotton still had a chance to produce, but it needed rain. Cattle, sheep and goat markets were holding, but a lack of moisture may change that as rangelands decline. Temperatures reached 100 degrees and beyond. Producers were treating for cactus and mesquite. Half of the counties reported fair soil moisture. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions remained good in most counties.
ROLLING PLAINS: Hot, dry and windy conditions continued causing soil moisture and pastures to decline rapidly. Wheat harvest was complete, and cotton planting was finishing up except for counties that received heavy moisture, where producers were waiting for drier conditions to get back into the fields. Pastures and rangelands looked good for now, but more moisture was needed. Hay grazer basically stopped growing, and most acres were becoming drought-stressed. Wildfire dangers returned.
COASTAL BEND: Heavy rains with totals ranging from 4-15 inches provided deep, soaking moisture to soil. Moisture will help cotton some, but won't help corn and sorghum as much. Some corn fields may experience ear mold from excessive rainfall. Head sprouting was reported in most mature grain sorghum. Harvest of grain sorghum and corn will resume as soon as fields dry enough. Pastures were greening up rapidly, allowing livestock to find ample forage. Cattle remained in good condition. Large numbers of mosquitoes were everywhere.
EAST: Recent rainfall helped most producers, but dry conditions across the district continued to affect all crops. Jasper County reported dangerous temperatures for working outside with lots of fuel for fires. Anderson, Henderson and Gregg counties reported hay production was down due to the lack of moisture. Houston County hay producers put out fertilizer in front of rain in hopes of getting a cutting before additional drought conditions set in. Gregg County reported some late applications of herbicide for weed control by producers. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor in Cherokee, Harrison, Henderson, Houston and Smith counties, with all others reporting fair to good conditions. Topsoil conditions in Anderson, Jasper, Sabine and San Augustine counties were adequate, and all others reported short conditions. Subsoil conditions were adequate in San Augustine and Anderson counties, and all others reported short conditions. Anderson County producers were hopeful the rainfall would be enough to save the corn crop. Anderson County soybean, grain, sorghum and cotton crops looked great. Vegetable crops were refreshed by rainfall with good demand and a strong market. Cattle prices in Houston, Gregg and Anderson counties were higher with Anderson County reporting $1-$3 higher per hundredweight. Shelby County reported calf prices were solid on heavier calves, but cow prices continued to fall. Livestock were in fair to good condition. There were reports of grasshoppers in Anderson County, and fly and mosquito numbers in Henderson and Houston counties were high. Feral hog activity was lower in Anderson and Gregg counties, but higher in Henderson County.
SOUTH PLAINS: Conditions improved slightly with rains received in the last three weeks. Some areas received up to half an inch of rain, which helped with the dryland cotton. Some dryland cotton didn't emerge and was replanted with sorghum. Cotton that was irrigated looked to be on track minus some wire worm activity in areas. Irrigated corn looked very good. Producers continued to supplement with irrigation where available. Pasture, rangeland and winter wheat needed rain. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels remained very low. Buffalo grass pastures came out of dormancy. Many ranchers finished branding calves. Cattle were in good condition.
PANHANDLE: Temperatures were warm and near normal. Moisture was received in most areas. Amounts ranged from a trace to 1.5 inches in some areas. More moisture was needed. Pastures and rangeland improved with recent rains. Hail and high winds accompanied stronger storms and caused some crop damage. Wheat harvest began. Producers were cutting some alfalfa and hay. Corn made very good progress with very light insect pressure. Cattle were in good condition. Hornfly numbers were building following rains. Rangelands that missed rainfall were getting very dry. Weed pressure was a concern in unharvested fields. Sorghum planting was delayed, but rains will help stands.
NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from adequate to short across the counties. Producers reported sporadic rain and temperatures in the upper 90s for the highs. It had been almost three weeks since the last rain. Pastures and hay meadows looked stressed from the heat. Corn and sorghum were also showing stress. Wheat harvest continued with 70-80 percent estimated complete. Yield reports indicate an average crop with most fields yielding 50-60 bushels per acre. Corn, cotton and soybeans looked very good with no reports of disease or insects. Early hay yields indicated the first cutting produced about half of last year's first-cutting yields. Cattle looked decent, but were beginning to show signs of stress from triple-digit temperatures and declining forages.
FAR WEST: Temperatures were above 100 degrees with lows in the upper 70s. Very few areas of the region received any significant rainfall. Parts of Ector, Winkler and Loving counties received 2-5 inches or more. Many farming areas received trace amounts of precipitation, but producers were afraid it would be too little too late to benefit dryland cotton. Cotton stands, including some irrigated acres, were very poor. Supplemental watering of pecan trees continued. Pecans were showing good fruit sets. Quail counts were up considerably. Mesquite trees were in varying states of bean production. Mosquito populations were increasing. Pasture conditions were very dry, and wildfire threats were high, and much of the district was under a burn ban. Producers were supplementing livestock. Alfalfa was cut and baled.
WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were hot, dry and windy. Some parts of the district got spotty showers, but amounts were less than 0.25 of an inch. Cotton planting and replanting was pretty much complete. Everything needed rain. Hay was in short supply. Most producers spent the week cutting and baling hay grazer fields before they burned up. In most cases, yields were about half of what a typical year makes. Sorghum was stressed. Pastures were in fair shape, but rain would help keep the green, otherwise they will go dormant soon. The cattle market was steady. Stocker steers and heifers sold steady with five 570-pound steers selling at $826.80, or $156 per hundredweight. Feeder steers and heifers sold steady with 18 steers averaging 781 pounds sold at $1,062.16, or $136 per hundredweight. Packer cows and bulls sold $2 higher, while replacement cattle remained steady.
SOUTHEAST: Parts of the district received much-needed rain. Rain totals ranged from 3-7 inches. Some areas received enough rain to get caught up on moisture needs, however, some places only received a few inches and were still very short on moisture. Rice was progressing. Early rice was starting to head out but needed rain as it flowers. Rains helped pastures. Hay fields that received a first cutting were growing. Livestock were in good condition. Rains will help hay producers, cattle ranchers, the majority of cotton fields and some late-planted grain sorghum and beans. Corn was already done and may be negatively affected by rain. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Some counties received scattered showers, but in most cases the rainfall was inadequate to add meaningful subsoil moisture. Forage, pasture and crop conditions were steadily declining. Large branches were breaking off of trees due to drought stress. Constant care was needed to ensure water and supplemental feed was available for wildlife and livestock.
SOUTH: Northern and western parts of the district continued to be hot and dry with short to very short moisture levels, while eastern and southern portions reported rainfall, wet conditions and surplus moisture. Many parts of the district reported rainfall amounts of 1 inch or more. Several areas received 3-8 inches and some areas received up to 14 inches throughout the reporting period. Urban areas experienced street and home flooding while rural areas had high creeks, flowing and water standing in pastures and row crop fields. Heavy rainfall damaged some grain sorghum, peas and watermelons. Other damages to ponds, fences, roads and fields were reported. Crop losses were estimated to be about 30 percent reduction in yields. Rainfall should improve conditions for cattle and wildlife. Producers rushed to harvest earlier-planted, fully dried sorghum days before storms arrived. Harvest will continue as conditions allow. Cattle prices increased slightly. Some areas did not receive any moisture. Chipper potato and corn harvests were complete in northern parts of the district. Peanut planting was also complete there. Rangeland and pastures were greening up with the cooler temperatures and rainfall. Stock tank water levels were low and declining in dry areas, but rains filled water sources in other areas. Body condition scores on cattle remained fair. Crops were maturing quickly, and pastures started to improve. Significant changes in rangeland and pasture conditions were expected for areas that received rain. Forage quality and availability continued to decline on native rangelands and pastures in dry areas, forcing some producers to begin supplemental feeding of livestock. Additionally, cotton, corn and sorghum producers in dry areas with irrigation capabilities continued to provide water. Cotton made good progress. Pecan orchard managers did not report insect activity. Onion harvest was complete. Grain harvest was well underway, and while yields were not impressive, the excessive amounts of rain will pose additional yield losses as it may be weeks before combines can re-enter fields. Corn harvest faces similar implications, and if plants begin to lay down, greater crops losses were expected. On the other hand, cotton now stands a chance to improve yields if conditions continue to be favorable for the next 60 days.