State's Drought, Summer Heat Stunt Pecan Harvest

Sunday, November 19th 2006, 2:20 pm
By: News On 6

FRANCIS, Okla. (AP) Drought and hot summer days have stunted Oklahoma's pecan harvest, and higher prices for the tasty nuts are the consequence.

At Carrel Bryant's family store in Ada, pecans have jumped from $7.25 per pound to $8.50. As demand for pecans increases, the price could go up even more, but it's hard to tell this early in the harvest.

The 10-year average for pecan harvest in Oklahoma is 18.8 million pounds per year. This year's pecan crop, which is harvested through December, was projected at about 20 million pounds.

Standing in his grove of almost 8,000 pecan trees on bottom land near the Canadian River, Bryant was not optimistic about the projection.

``I think we'll be lucky to get half that much,'' said Bryant, a past president of the Oklahoma Pecan Grower's Association.

The drought and foraging by squirrels, raccoons, crows and mice have made it hard for farmers in southern Oklahoma to get a good pecan crop this year. One squirrel can eat about 50 pounds of nuts per season, and several crows can take out whole trees, said Mike Smith, a regents professor at Oklahoma State University who does work in pecan research.

At the Flying G Ranch in Lotsee, near Tulsa, Mike Spradling is hopeful his pecan crop will match the harvest of previous years, but the cost of producing pecans is increasing with the price of fuel and fertilizer, he said.

``Pecans are probably going to be in short supply this year,'' Spradling said. Demand surges around Thanksgiving and spikes again around Christmas.

There are 2,879 pecan farms in Oklahoma, which ranks fourth in the nation in producing native pecans. Native pecans are trees that occur naturally.

On Bryant's farm, pecan trees took over a field where his father once planted corn.

In parts of Oklahoma where pecans flourish, locals know where the best trees are along roadsides or in neighbors' pastures.

It took Kenneth Qualls less than three hours to get several pounds of pecans. Qualls is one of the many customers who will bring in plastic grocery bags full of nuts to the Bryant Pecan Co., Bryant's store in Ada.

The store buys pecans and cracks them for customers such as Qualls, who is hoping he's accumulated enough nuts to get his wife through the holiday baking season.

``She puts them in everything,'' Qualls said. ``She'd put them in the gravy if I'd let her.''