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Use Mississippi pecans during holiday cooking
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's pecan trees endured the summer's drought to produce more nuts than expected for holiday meals this year.
David Ingram is an associate plant pathologist at Mississippi State University's Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond. He said most commercial growers are surprised with yields following the hurricane damage to trees in 2005 and the drought of this summer. He said rains during pollination and nut setting time helped load trees before the drought hit.
“Most trees got minimal, but timely, rains during the summer to fill and hold onto their pecans,” Ingram said. “For the most part, the crop looks better than anticipated regionwide or at least with our neighboring states.”
Ingram said prices should be good because of low stockpiles from last year's crop and strong demand.
Max Draughn of Bass Pecan Co. and Pecan Hill Farms in Madison, said nuts are plentiful but did not fill out as well because of the drought.
“Our younger trees are irrigated, but they are not in production yet. We have about 900 trees that are 130 years old, and it's not feasible to add irrigation to them,” he said.
Draughn bought his orchard four years ago. After rehabilitating and returning it to production, he has seen production increases each year except 2005. Pecan trees have alternate bearing years, meaning they typically produce larger yields every other year.
“Hurricane Katrina caused about an 80 percent loss early enough in 2005 that trees were ready for a larger load this year,” he said.
Draughn credited the drought with reducing disease pressure, but yellow aphids were a bigger challenge than in past years. He had to spray twice, rather than the normal one time, to prevent more damage. Yellow aphids cause sooty mold that can reduce nut size.
Blake Layton, Extension entomologist, said yellow aphids are the most consistent insect problem on pecans each year.
“Growers try to avoid spraying as long as they can to protect beneficial insects that help control aphids,” Layton said. “Usually, growers can get by without spraying until late summer or early fall. They closely follow the population thresholds that trigger insecticide applications: 30 aphids per compound leaf before July 1 and 15 aphids after July 1.”
Layton said aphids hurt pecan growth by sucking nutrients from the underside of the leaves. The aphids' sticky secretions cause a black mold to form over the leaves. In extreme cases, the mold can block out light and interfere with photosynthesis.
“When it's dry, the plants need nutrition even more to help the nuts develop,” Layton said. “Unfortunately, dry weather like we had this past summer tends to help aphids' development. Populations grow very quickly except in extremely hot conditions, so growers need to scout often and stay on top of the situation.”