Pecan growers are moving lighter shipments than is typical to Oklahoma buyers this season, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Bad weather is the culprit, of course, although it made an impact much earlier in the season, farmers told The Journal Record.
"It's been a poor year, a light crop due to excessive rains in the summer," said Alvin Stein, co-owner of the Stein Pecan Farm in Wellston. "When your trees don't get a chance to dry off, it creates an opportunity for fungus that slows down production overall. . And then we had a long dry spell, which didn't help anything."
Stein has about 20 acres of the popular paper shell pecan variety and 40 acres of native pecans with thicker shells. He and other Oklahoma producers said demand is strong for what they've harvested, particularly paper shells, although they also expect more direct retailing for seasonal gifts this year.
USDA reports confirmed northern Oklahoma counties received their first frost of the season early this month, a signal that tree-bound pecans should fall soon. That's not entirely true, however, said Diane Couch, owner of Couch Orchard in Luther. Frost is merely one of the catalysts that can trigger nut release, but a well-managed orchard can enter harvest without it, she said - tree trunk-shakers, for example, come in handy. Unlike Stein, Couch irrigated some of her trees to help them through the growing season, which made them unwilling to shut down production.
"Mother nature doesn't always do what you want her to do, unfortunately, so we're actually re-harvesting now to get what we didn't get out of the trees the first time," she said.
"I've happy with our quantity so far; it's been pretty good," Couch said. "I've been hearing a lot of people with native trees and yard trees that they haven't had much success. And I haven't seen many custom cracking orders either, which we normally get when people bring us their pecans for shelling.
At Urban Agrarian, a locally sourced food distributor and retailer in Oklahoma City, Manager Roy Deal said the company hasn't received any small lots of hand-picked nuts yet this season either. In addition to Urban Agrarian's statewide network of producers, it also buys from metro residents who have pecan-bearing trees, as long as the product is good quality, he said.
"By this time of the year, we typically have people walking in off the streets to see if we'll buy their nuts in the shell from grandma's tree," he said.
"Pecan prices haven't moved over the year," Deal said. "We're getting good pecans at reasonable prices, and I've only heard from one customer that there might be an increase but I haven't seen that."