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US: Texan pecan farmers say it could take years to fully recover from Harvey

When Texan farmers John and L'Nell Starkey returned after Hurricane Harvey, the substantial damage to their pecan orchard left a sting.

"To see anything that is damaged that bad, and something that we put our lives in, too — we were very sad," said John Starkey, 87. "We spend a great deal of time taking care of the trees, trying to make them healthy. It's like growing our kids or grandkids ... It's a serious injury, and it's going to be very emotional, very sad for us to see these trees that deformed."

The Victoria Advocate reports that, across the area, pecan orchards sustained heavy damage after Harvey, which made landfall Aug. 25 in South Texas, downed tree limbs, blew trees over and washed away leaves and pecans, said local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agents.

After Harvey, the Starkeys found four down trees out of their estimated 275. About 60 percent of the trees sustained major limb damage, and all of them sustained some damage, Starkey said. The couple's fences leaned under piled-up debris as well.

The Starkeys might be able to collect some pecans one at a time this harvest season but won't be able to use their usual harvest machine because of all the mess. Starkey estimates they lost about 80 percent of their crop.

He said some of his trees that lost leaves or had broken limbs started new growth with the warm weather after Harvey. Some of the trees even bloomed like they would in the spring.

The new buds of leaves will throw the trees off track if they use a lot of energy they would use next spring to start making next year's crop, said Monte Nesbitt, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist.

"The fact those buds have been activated matters because those (trees) normally stay in a resting state until next spring when they would bud out and make next year's crop," he said.

Larry Stein, Texas A&M University professor and Extension Service horticulturist, agreed with Nesbitt. He said it could take two to three years for substantially damaged trees to grow back and have a significant crop, but only time will tell.

"The challenge you have is you have to regrow those trees," he said. "The crop next year is virtually none because of all of the limb structure that was lost. The challenge you have when trees put buds out on this time of the year (is) it expends energy they would use next year."

Charles Nelson Jr., 63, owns Nelson Pecan Farm in Inez. Like the Starkeys, Nelson estimates he lost about 80 percent of his crop this year. After Harvey, Nelson had seven trees down out of about 470. About 30 percent of the remaining crop sustained major limb damage.

"For the pecan orchard itself, it's going to affect it," he said. "I would expect for next year to be a little slim and the next year to be smaller. You never know how these trees are going to react. Who knows, you know?"

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