St. Paul, Minn. (October 28, 2004) - Rich pecan pie is a long-time favorite dessert of the holiday season. But this year, the amount of pecans harvested will be dramatically down due to substantial damage from the 2004 hurricanes, say plant health specialists with The American Phytopathological Society (APS).
Pecan growers in Georgia and Alabama, two of the primary pecan growing areas were already expecting a light production year due to reduced nut set on many cultivars, said Tim Brenneman, APS member and plant pathologist with the University of Georgia. "But then the hurricanes came late in the growing season and caused tremendous damage to pecan crops in these two states," he said.
Georgia, which normally produces 120 million pounds of pecans annually, lost an estimated 50 percent of its already reduced pecan crop. Alabama, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan, lost 80 percent of its total crop. Damage to the pecan trees include pecans blown prematurely from the limbs, twisted limbs and limb breakage, as well as severe tree leaning and loss of entire trees. Approximately 15-20 percent of all pecan trees in the state of Alabama were destroyed. "We aren't yet certain of the full effect the damage has had on the remaining trees," said Brenneman. "There's evidence that some trees may not fully recover," he said. Many farmers have tried to save the injured trees by using tractors to pull the trees straight and remove damaged limbs.
Pecan trees take many years to get into full production. The stress on damaged trees may affect pecan production for years to come. "Next year's crop is dependent on the health of the trees when they go into winter," said Brenneman.
Another problem brought on by the hurricanes is increased pecan disease. One disease that normally doesn't appear, Phytophthora shuck and kernel rot, has appeared in the middle of the Georgia pecan growing area. The disease, caused by a fungus-like organism, occurs when there is an extended period of cool, wet weather much like the weather caused by the hurricanes. The disease causes the kernel to discolor and rot, rendering it inedible. "The appearance of this disease has really compounded the situation," said Brenneman. Plant health specialists are working with growers to control the outbreak of this disease.
The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization. The research of the organization's 5,000 worldwide members advances the understanding of the science of plant pathology and its application to plant health.
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