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In Oklahoma, pecan harvest is plentiful but producers struggle to find buyers

The USDA estimates Oklahoma's pecan crop at 25 million pounds this year, four times last year's production. Even though there are a lot of pecans, they are small and large commercial shellers are shunning the crop or paying just 60 to 70 cents a pound.
by Jennifer Palmer Published: December 16, 2012

/articleid/3737951/1/pictures/1908343">Photo - Pecans are harvested at the Flying "G" Ranch near Sand Springs. <strong> - PROVIDED BY MIKE SPRADLING, OKLA</strong>
Pecans are harvested at the Flying "G" Ranch near Sand Springs. - PROVIDED BY MIKE SPRADLING, OKLA

It can reduce the quality of the crop if the nuts don't have enough moisture to fill the shell, it can affect the size of the nuts, it can prevent the shuck from opening up, it can stress the tree so it loses its leaves and, in the most extreme cases, the tree will completely die.

Spradling recalls hearing of Texas pecan grower who lost 65,000 young pecan trees — his entire orchard — in last year's drought after his municipality cut off water to his irrigation system. The trees take six to eight years to begin producing nuts and they can't be insured, Spradling said.

Randy Bryant, of Bryant Pecan Co. in Ada, said his family's orchard lost a third, or about 1,000, of their pecan trees in 2011.

“Last summer, we spent $200 a day on water trying to keep our trees alive and we weren't able to take care of all of them,” he said.

But this year, they are about halfway through a harvest that will produce about 200,000 pounds of pecans, a third less than their average 300,000 pounds. Bryant said commercial shellers don't want nuts under half an inch, which means he is throwing away the smallest pecans.

Water is needed during the months of June and July to plump up the nut meat, and this year, early summer was dry, said Charles Rohla, assistant professor for The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, who focuses on pecan research.

“It's a blessing that we have pecans. But because of the drought, the size of the pecans makes it hard to sell,” Rohla said.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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