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Georgia pecan growers collect unexpected bounty with back-to-back bearing seasons

Pecans can be finicky by nature, often following a banner year with a poor one as trees collect, restore and reserve resources depleted by a bumper crop. The 2011-12 season was one of the best in Georgia history, so growers were surprised that 2012-2013 has yielded nearly the same result.

Better yet, Mother Nature cooperated so willingly that the Georgia pecan harvest, Ga-Pecan-updateThe Georgia pecan harvest was nearly complete by the first of the year, and increased international demand means that most of it is already sold.which often extends into February due to weather conditions, was virtually complete by the first of the year.

Better still, skyrocketing international demand for pecans in general and the Georgia crop in particular means that most of this year's harvest is already sold, according to Duke Lane, chairman of the Georgia Pecan Commission and head of Lane Family Orchards in Fort Valley, GA, one of the state's larger pecan and peach growers.

"It's sort of unusual for a crop to bounce back and put on a second showing of nuts two years in a row, but basically that's what's happened," Mr. Lane said. "Some varieties will load up one year and the next year they won't give you that much of anything -- it takes time for the varieties to recoup the nutrients and all that have been taken out of them."

So have pecan growers in Georgia — traditionally the national production leader — cracked the code to make pecans bear annually? Maybe. Weather has certainly helped this year. But much of Georgia's pecan acreage is now irrigated and fertigated with modern methods, meaning growers are giving Mother Nature a hand in replenishing stores.

But many growers — especially those growing on land with short-term leases — still rely on natural rainfall and great weather to make a crop, and those growers have benefited from late-season rains this year along with those who have improved their land.

"I think the weather has a lot to do with it," Mr. Lane said. "Some of these orchards are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and when we have dry periods, particularly late in August and September, then nuts on the tree don't fill out. The May and June rains actually size the nut. There have been years when you have a good nut but not a good meat content; good rains in September, October and November can enhance that. New growth is being developed during that period as well and we need rain to sustain and flush out that new growth so when we finally get frost and the nuts are done you go into dormancy with a good bit of new growth.

"If we had opposite and the tree was really strained to push out the nuts it had and fill them out using all the nutrients and water, you are fighting the ability to make a crop that next year," he continued. "It takes pretty long for a tree to recoup what it's fought to give out."

Not only is this year's Georgia crop bounteous, it is also premium quality, which means buyers are standing in line for product.

"Not a lot of nuts are going in storage ... good nuts [are] good money," Mr. Lane said. "With the demand that we're getting on the global market — India has become a player, Turkey has also just recently become a player, Dubai, Brazil and particularly China — and good volume and good pricing, there's no use to hold the nuts over."

There are more than 600 pecan growers in Georgia and more are getting in the game every day. With continuing demand spurred by news of positive health benefits from pecan consumption and the "Georgia Grown" marketing program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, along with premium pricing, even amateur farmers find the pecan market enticing.

"Lawyers, bankers — anybody whose attention has been caught by the pecan market is planting trees," Mr. Lane said. "Even [former U.S.] Sen. Sam Nunn, who has a big farm between Perry and Hawkinsville, has some land that had been row crops for years, and now it's pecan trees."