COLLEGE STATION — Texas pecan growers could expect another subpar year despite good moisture early in the 2019 season, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist in Uvalde, said yield estimates were low, from 30 million to 36 million pounds, for Texas this season. Texas pecan trees typically produce about 50 million pounds in a good year.
“This year is hit and miss for much of the pecan-producing areas, especially West Texas,” he said. “Producers there had a big crop in 2018, and it’s typical to see yields drop off after a big harvest. But it looks like they really dropped off around the state. South Texas looks to be having a good year, but again, it’s been hit and miss this season overall.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture June summary report put Texas pecan production for 2018 at 33.6 million pounds from 112,000 acres compared with 48.99 million pounds from 115,000 acres in 2017.
June conditions were favorable with good moisture levels, but have turned arid the past six weeks, Stein said. Nut sizes are larger due to good spring conditions, which means it will take plenty of fertilizer and water for proper kernel fill.
“The big challenge at this point is that it takes water and nitrogen to fill the kernels, and most areas of the state have been missing rain for the last two months,” he said. “Irrigation will be key if we don’t start seeing some timely rains.”
Stein said trees should receive 2 inches of water weekly up to shuck split. Irrigated water should be applied around the tree’s dripline. Trees’ water input should be supplemented with irrigation through mid-September — or the first good fall rain — to ensure they are not stressed going into winter.
Trees need 10-20 pounds of ammonium sulfate or urea per acre in August and September on heavily loaded trees, he said.
“If trees can’t get enough nitrogen from the soil, they’ll take it from the leaves,” he said. “So, you’ll notice leaves turning yellow and dropping off.”
Pests can also reduce nut quality, Stein said.
Insects, including hickory shuckworm, black aphids, weevils and stinkbugs, are a top concern for pecan production at this point in the season, he said. Shuckworms, weevils and stinkbugs directly affect the nut, while aphids can cause leaf damage, which can stress the tree.
“The threshold for black aphids is very low, so they need to be controlled aggressively,” he said. “Usually shuckworm sprays will take care of pecan nut casebearer and some of the other pests that impact yields. So, targeting one will take care of others.”
Stein said homeowners may notice dripping excretions if they park under pecan trees. The sappy excretion is from yellow aphids, which feed on leaves and expel the liquid. Typically, yellow aphids won’t harm trees, and populations typically fall without treatment.
Despite challenges, Stein said producers who actively thinned trees, monitored for and treated pests and followed prescribed irrigation recommendations should see decent to good yields and quality.
“The good news is that we’ve had good deep soil moisture,” he said. “We couldn’t say that just a few years ago. It’s just now getting dry, so we just need to feed and water the trees, and watch for bugs that want our pecans.”