During last year's pecan harvest, John Grundmann was sacking candy to keep busy. Drought decimated the crop, and there just weren't any nuts to crack and shell at his business, a commercial pecan sheller, Valley View Pecan Co. in Shawnee.
This year is different.
“I've got something to do this year,” Grundmann said, the sounds of a busy season around him.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Oklahoma's pecan production at 25 million pounds this year, more than four times last year's production, when just 6 million pounds were harvested.
However, Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and a pecan grower himself, believes the 2012 estimate is high. The drought is still affecting the state's pecans, he said, and even though there are a lot of pecans, they are small, causing most commercial shellers to shun them or pay peanuts.
Oklahoma pecans are going for 60 to 70 cents a pound, the USDA said. Last year, producers were getting $1.50 a pound.
“It was a windfall for the growers last year,” Spradling said. “It's going to be a windfall for the shellers this year.”
It's a perfect example of the sometimes brutal cycle of supply in demand in agriculture. In lean times, farmers with crop to sell are paid well. But when crops are plentiful, pay is low.
Compounding the issue this year is the pecan surplus shellers have in cold storage.
Pecans retain their quality for several years when frozen, so there is typically about a two-year supply in storage, Spradling said. Despite the low wholesale prices, retail prices remain high.
Drought can affect a pecan tree in five ways, Spradling said.