While a dry, hot summer is taking a toll on much of the state’s pecan crop, the wet spring in East Texas may have been a bigger factor.
“The crop is going to be light,” said James Livergood, who owns and operates a 30-acre pecan orchard near Palestine with his wife Suzy.
Like growers across the state, Livergood said this past week he’s expecting the East Texas crop to be of average to below-average yield. Quality is fair, he said.
The recent dry spell and heat causing concern for growers elsewhere in Texas will not affect the size of his crop, though, Livergood said. However, it could hurt the quality of the nuts.
“I have some trees that are not irrigated” that will not do well, he said. “The other trees are irrigated, and I hope that they would have good quality.”
Spring rains that harmed pollination had a bigger negative effect, he said.
And every year, he said, humidity in the region makes trees more susceptible to fungal diseases.
“I have to fight (fungal diseases) all the time, and the spring is when it is worse,” Livergood said.
Such issues have taken a toll on East Texas production over the years.
While commercial operations remain in the region, much production began moving decades ago to drier climate in Central Texas, said Lee Dudley, AgriLife Extension agent in Panola County.
“We had a lot of old-world pecans,” he said. “Our river bottoms used to have them. Everybody had five or 10 pecan trees at their house.”
They’re still around, though. Dudley said a small pecan grove was planted in Carthage a few years ago, but the trees are not mature enough to produce fruit.
In Palestine, Livergood said this year’s down crop comes after a bumper crop in 2018, though quality was “not as good.”
By contrast, he said the 2017 crop was of good quality with only fair quantity.
“It’s typical farming,” said Livergood, who’s also a board member of the Texas Pecan Growers Association. “You can have a good year or two and have a bad year.”
Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist in Uvalde, said yield estimates across Texas are low this season. AgriLife is forecasting a harvest of from 30 million to 36 million pounds. In a good year, pecan trees in Texas produce about 50 million pounds.
Stein said conditions have turned arid over the past six weeks after favorable moisture levels in June.
In East Texas and much of the state, the growing season starts in March, with harvest beginning in October and lasting about two months.
The Livergoods sell pecans across the country through their website, Palestinetexaspecans.com, but said their primary market is retail outlets in Texas and Oklahoma.
Commercial customers include bakeries.
One regular customer is Debbie Fontaine, owner of Edible Art Specialty Cakes & Cookies in Longview.
Fontaine, in business for 12 years, said she used to buy pecans from a California wholesaler but has been buying from the Livergoods for two years. She said she orders 50 pounds a month, mostly from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and uses the nuts to bake pecan pies and her three top-selling cookies: butter pecan, Russian rock and triple chocolate chunk pecan.
“The meat is great,” Fontaine said. “Those pecans are as fresh as they come. It is the freshest product we can buy.”
Fontaine said she is “thrilled” to be able to use local pecans.