Texas becomes top pecan producer in US

Albequerque_New Mexico pecan producers went nuts when initial estimates showed the state was No. 1 in pecan production for the first time, beating out the usual top producers, Georgia and Texas.

But Texas has shaken New Mexico from the top spot after a late surge of pecans hit the market, putting that state's total of in-shell pecans for 2006 at 47 million pounds - roughly a million pounds above New Mexico's harvest.

Crop predictions released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July showed New Mexico first with 46 million pounds, followed by 40 million pounds from Georgia, which typically holds the top spot. Texas was third with 36 million pounds.

Its late surge was uncommon, said Richard Heerema, extension pecan specialist with New Mexico State University.

"It was a bit of a surprise, but it just gives us a chance to try for that No. 1 spot once again," Heerema said. "There's not a huge difference between (New Mexico and Texas). We're more or less tied."

Heerema said shelled weight of New Mexico's pecans is still No. 1, though the industry measures only in-shell pounds. The shelled weight includes only the nut kernel, or meat, weight.

The state is also the leader in crop value. In 2006, New Mexico's harvest was worth $85 million, followed by Texas at $75 million and Georgia with $66 million.

Pecan farmer David Salopek, president of the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, said listing Texas as the top producer is a misnomer when comparing actual kernel meat.

"What you pay for is the meat. New Mexico produces more meat, and that's all that matters. (Texas) produces more pecans in theory, but they produce less kernels," said Salopek, noting that on average New Mexico produces 23 million pounds of kernels compared with Texas' 21 million pounds.

New Mexico's abundant sunshine, pruning practices, soil management and irrigation techniques help growers maintain a reliable quality, which demands a higher price, Heerema said.

Last year, New Mexico had a higher average price per pound than other states at $1.85.

"The size of New Mexico pecans is about as big as they get," Heerema said.

Because pecans grow on an alternate "on-off" bearing cycle, New Mexico growers use pruning techniques to bring more light to pecans inside the canopy and increase flowering in both on and off years. Besides increasing quality, the techniques also keep the nut-bearing relatively steady, Heerema said.

He said it would be tough for New Mexico to take the top spot again, even though it has a higher yield because of increased acreage in the Pecos River Valley and Mesilla Valley.

The nation produced nearly 189 million pounds of pecans in 2006 from the Pecan Belt - a 15-state growing region located in the southeastern and southwestern United States. New Mexico's crop accounted for 24 percent of the total production, according to the National Pecan Growers Council in Albany, Ga.

Heerema expects the 2007 crop to yield between 65 and 75 million pounds, comparable to 2005's 65 million pounds.

Georgia is expected to have very high yields for 2007, because of a severe drought that is controlling disease issues. Texas yields could be affected by flooding, while parts of Oklahoma are recovering from an early freeze.

The pecan harvest is expected to begin in late November and will last about six weeks.

Salopek, whose family harvests thousands of acres of pecans in the Mesilla Valley, said weather has been cooperative so far and farmers are expecting a good harvest.

"It could be one of the top three crops in New Mexico history," he said. "It's just been a good growing season."


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A summer drought that hurt some farmers' crops proved just right for southwestern Indiana pumpkin fields now awash in orange.

The fall pumpkin harvest has been so plentiful that Larry Goebel of Goebel's Farm Market in Evansville said he's harvesting his best crop ever.

"We've already sold more this year than all of last year, and we have a ways to go," he said. "We're shipping to Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri - just all over, and we're getting inquiries from all over the country."

The plentiful harvest of pumpkins, squash and gourds is a blessing for the region's farmers, who endured a damaging late spring frost and a hot, dry summer that ruined everything from berries to apples.

Sherrill Mayse of Mayse Farm Market in Evansville said the summer's scant rainfall was bad for some produce, but it was great for pumpkins, which tend to rot if excessive rains leave the ground muddy.

Mayse said she and her husband, Paul, are now enjoying "a very good season" as people snatch up pumpkins to carve for Halloween or to bake pies and other fall confections.

Melanie Dabovich, AP Writer © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.