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.