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Don't get your hopes up for pecan pie this Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2013 4:49 pm by AP

Don't get your hopes up for pecan pie this Thanksgiving

A poor pecan crop could mean problems for pecan pie lovers this Thanksgiving. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

OCILLA, Ga. — It is a
meager holiday in the pecan groves of the South, and the pain is
stretching to kitchens across the country.

A rare collision of
ill-timed rain, marauding animals and a growing love affair between the
Chinese middle class and the pecan has resulted in the worst pecan
supply in recent memory. As a result, grocery store prices are up by
about 30 percent, which is causing Thanksgiving bakers to think twice
about their menus.

“It’s like the world doesn’t want us to make pralines,” said Anna Butler, 24, a Texas native who lives in New York.

Butler
has a ticket home to Texas for the holiday, so she and her New York
friends celebrated an early Thanksgiving last weekend. She had planned
to show off her Texan roots with a black-bottom pecan pie. But at her
favorite market, a pound of shelled pecans cost $15.99.

“That’s a real investment in a pie right there,” she said.

Too much, in fact. She brought a dish of cauliflower, macaroni and cheese instead.

In
2012, the nation’s pecan orchards produced about 302 million pounds of
pecans. This year, that number could drop by as much as 35 percent,
according to industry officials. In Georgia, the nation’s leading
pecan-producing state, the crop is expected to be about half of what it
was last year. In South Carolina, some orchards succumbed completely.

The
problem began last spring and summer with record rainfall. Pollination
became difficult, and the moisture encouraged disease. Pecan growers
sprayed their fields in record amounts, but it wasn’t enough to fight
off a disease called scab.

In Texas and Oklahoma, it was a summer
drought that hurt the trees. Then came autumn’s heavy rain, which made
the ground too wet to hold the heavy equipment that shakes nuts from
trees and sweeps them up.

As a result, harvesting was sporadic,
and the pecan supply was left wide open for feral pigs, which have
become quite a problem in Texas, and for squirrels, which are always
looking for a free nut.

“The crop faced a lot of wildlife
pressure,” said Blair Krebs, associate director of sales and marketing
at the Texas Pecan Growers Association.

The bad nut crop has a few
other causes, one of which is the cyclical nature of pecans: Typically,
if one year is good, the next year is not.

Last year, for
example, Texas produced about 65 million pounds of pecans, said Larry
Stein, a professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University. Most
estimates indicate that this year will bring no more than 35 million
pounds.

Then, there is China.

In the mid-2000s, the market
for pecans in China began to grow rapidly. China now consumes more than a
third of the U.S. pecan crop, a development that followed the country’s
inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001.

“Before that,
they didn’t know what a pecan was,” said Randy Hudson, the owner of
Hudson Pecan Company here in Ocilla and a vice president of the National
Pecan Growers Council.

Chinese shoppers prefer big varieties with thin shells, with names like Desirables and Stuarts.

“The ones that are real pretty on top of a pecan pie? Most of those have gone to export,” Krebs said.

While that isn’t good news
for American bakers, it has alleviated the pain for many farmers.
Although the crop is small this year, the price is well over $3 a pound
at the wholesale level.

Still, that has not helped the
neighborhood pickers in the Deep South who collect so-called yard nuts
from the pecan trees that grow in backyards from Atlanta to rural Texas.

In
a fall ritual, people scoop them up and bring sacks to shelling stands
along the road. In many rural regions, “We buy pecans” signs aren’t hard
to find.

But backyard pecan trees and small orchards are not usually sprayed regularly enough to ward off disease.

“People
use yard nuts to pay their property taxes,” said Scott Hudson, Hudson’s
son and vice president of the family company. “But not this year.”

The
great pecan crisis of 2013 is playing out differently in different
regions. Parts of New Mexico might have a good crop of high-quality
nuts. And some parts of the country just don’t care as much about making
a pecan pie for Thanksgiving.

Nationally, there were more than twice as many searches for pumpkin pie as for pecan pie, a Google spokeswoman said.



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