Drought Could Spell Trouble for Pecan Lovers

Photo: National Pecan Shellers Association

If pecan pie’s on your menu for Thursday—for as long as I can remember, it’s been on my family’s Thanksgiving table—get ready to pay a pretty penny for the delectable dessert. The cost of a pound of pecans rose from $7 in 2008 to around $11 this year, according to the Associated Press, with drought in pecan-producing states like Texas and Louisiana making matters worse.

Though more than a dozen states farm pecans, the only native tree nut grown for commercial use in the U.S., Georgia and Texas combined generate the majority. But think back to the summer; this has been a year of record-breaking droughts. Thirst-inducing droughts. Feel-sorry-for-the-trees-and-the-land droughts. You get the point. In fact, this has been the driest year in the history of the Lone Star State, according to The New York Times.

Less water from rainfall equals trees dropping nuts earlier and subsequently, fewer total pecans available for sale commercially. For Texas that means an expected decrease in production from 70,000 pounds in 2010 to between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds this year. “We have lost a lot of trees to this drought, especially non-irrigated dryland varieties,” Larry Stein, a Texas A&M horticulturist, told Western Farmland Press. “Some farmers simply ran out of water, first from rivers that were drying up and for some, water wells that ran dry.”

Texas isn’t the only state feeling the dry-heat. Louisiana output could decline by more than 11 million pounds this year. “I’ve been farming for 60 or more years, and this is the driest I’ve ever seen,” Ben Littlepage, a grower in central Louisiana, told the AP. “The bayous are completely dry.”

Top that with increased pecan demand coming from China, and it could mean fewer pecan pies donning American tables this week. If you’re a pecan fanatic, don’t worry, you don’t have to give up your traditional Thanksgiving pie. You may just have to get creative or tap alternative sources. As one Epicurious commenter put it, “Thank god for the pecan tree in my grandmother’s back yard, not to mention all the grandkids to shell them.”

If you don’t have a yard full of pecan trees, just remember to bring a couple extra bucks to the grocery (or maybe, opt for pumpkin pie, instead).

Photo: National Pecan Shellers Association

Now, a few fun, a few serious facts about pecans and their production, from the National Pecan Shellers Association and the USDA’s Economic Research Service:

- It would take more than 11,600 pecans stacked end to end to reach the height of the Empire State Building. It would take 10 billion to reach the moon.
- With its more than 600,000 pecan trees, Albany, Georgia earns top honors as the U.S. pecan capital. About 1/3 the pecans produced in the U.S. come out of Georgia. So much for being the peach state.
- After Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona produce the most of these nuts.
- There are more than 1,000 different pecan varieties.
- Typical pecan orchards have 19 trees, though New Mexico averages about 42.
- Pecans are judged by their look: Amount of kernel in shell, kernel color and oil content, and shell thickness come into play when determining an individual nut’s quality. By the way, light brown’s the most favorable hue.
- Though pecans sell for 11 bucks a pound, the nut’s farmers only see about $3.

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