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US: Texas pecan crop outlook 'optimistic'

The pecan crop in Central Texas is looking good despite the hot summer, and some varieties may be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks, said Mark Oliver, of San Angelo.

The Oliver family pecan business, with headquarters in San Saba, known as the pecan capital of the world, has outlets in several towns, including the one at 3101 N. Chadbourne St. in San Angelo. Not only do they buy pecans, the Oliver stores offer a variety of treats from their kitchens — pecan pies, candies, chocolate covered pecans, etc. — and both non-shelled and shelled nuts by the pound.

"Growers in Tom Green County will harvest some pecans, but the quality will likely range from low to high. There could be a lot of nuts with no kernel on the inside," Mark told me. "The irrigated pecans will fare better."

Because of the drought, there were early summer signs of dead branches in tree canopies and a lack of new growth in the Texas Hill Country, said Monte Nesbitt, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension program specialist and horticulturist.

"Overall, the outlook for pecans is optimistic statewide. Last year was supposed to be a good year for pecans, but the drought and extreme heat adversely affected the final outcome. But this year, which would have been an off year, is shaping up nicely," Nesbitt said.

He said nut growers are hoping for a good yield this year after last year's drought dropped average harvest numbers from the usual 70 million pounds to 30 million to 35 million pounds.

"Pecans are the No. 1 orchard crop in Texas and will always be a viable alternative for agriculture producers. But like all crops, good management and substantial water are key factors in producing a profitable crop. It comes down to water, management and innovation for the serious pecan grower. Pecans represent a great crop choice because pecan farming is mechanized, but like all other farm products, bad things can happen. There are diseases and pests and, as we know too well, drought can play a major role any given year," Nesbitt said.

According to Nesbitt, there is a steady market for pecans domestically, but Texas had partnered with other pecan growing states in an effort to promote pecans in places like China, India and Germany, and so far those efforts have paid off.

In my many visits to LeRoy Olsak's Schleicher County pecan orchards, I have learned about the demand for Texas pecans in the Far East. For several years, LeRoy has exported a major portion of his harvested pecans to China.

Several years ago, the Texas Pecan Growers Association participated in an international show in Shanghai, China. TPGA officials, who manned the booth at the three-day show, reported thousands of visitors stopping by to sample Texas pecans.

Afterward, LeRoy made contact with several of the Chinese and told them the story about his experience as a bomber pilot during World War II when an engine failed over Shanghai and he barely reached safety.

"Now the current generation is buying my pecans," LeRoy told me. "I told them I would rather furnish them with some good-tasting Texas pecans, instead of bombs. They laughed and shook my hand, saying: 'It's a deal.' "

The Olsak orchard near Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo, has about 900 trees spread across 40 acres. He said this year's crop should be good as the trees are loaded.

"Our primary varieties are Western and Wichita pecans," he said. "The Pawnee — a popular pecan variety with consumers — are normally harvested in October. The bulk of Cheyenne, Nacona and Shoshoni, Choctaw and Sioux varieties are ready to pick later."

Olsak placed first with his Shoshoni variety at the Texas State Pecan Show on July 15 in San Marcos with 38.92 nuts per pound and a kernel percent of 52.27. He also placed first with his Nacona variety that weighed in at 38.04 nuts per pound and a kernel percent of 55.79.


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