Oklahoma's pecan harvest has been good in the northeastern part of the state this year, but late spring freezes in the southern part of the state have meant a less-than-bountiful crop of nuts.
While Oklahoma produced about 25 million pounds of pecans in 2012 and typically averages about 18 million pounds, this year's nut harvest will likely come in about 6 million pounds, said Charles Rohla, pecan grower and past president of the Oklahoma Pecan Growers Association.
“This year the crop is pretty light due to a number of factors — southern Oklahoma had three late freezes that really hurt production,” Rohla said. “The area from Bryan County to Pontotoc County was hit pretty hard.”
Rohla manages the Sam Roberts Noble Foundation's 500-acre pecan orchard in Burneyville on the Red River.
“Along the Red River, maybe a third of the crop has been wiped out,” Rohla said.
However, the quality of the pecans has been better this year because of the lessening of extreme drought conditions in the state, he said.
“The quality is excellent this year compared to last year,” Rohla said.
“Because of the drought, the pecans had been about a third of their normal size in previous years.”
The weather was mercifully better for pecan growers in northeastern Oklahoma, and many are reporting a good harvest this year.
“The growers that were north of I-40 — we had a good crop, but everybody south of I-40 didn't have good crop,” Peggy Knight said, who owns about 4,000 pecan trees in various stages of production with husband Bob Knight at Knight Creek Farm in Creek County.
The Knights wrapped up their harvest of paper shell pecans in late November on their 300-acre farm near Bristow and will continue harvesting native hard shell varieties through mid January.
Prices for pecans are good this year for Oklahoma growers, in part because of poor pecan crops this year in Georgia and Louisiana, as well as growing foreign demand for nuts, particularly from China, Peggy Knight said.
‘Brain food' in China
“They just like to eat them — the Chinese government has declared them brain food,” she said.
This week, pecan growers across the state were busy wrapping up their harvest, as well as assessing damage from freezing rain last week that shellacked tree branches with a heavy coat of ice.
“We hope it will warm up and melt the ice. Pecan trees are pretty brittle, and if the wind picks up, the ice will break and take out nut-producing limbs that we can't afford to lose,” Peggy Knight said.
At Couch Pecan Orchard in Luther, Diane Couch has been busy shelling nuts for holiday pies and cookies sold at her retail store just off State Highway 66 near her 40-acre orchard.
Many of her customers come back year after year to buy their nuts from the orchard Couch's father started in the 1960s, she said.
“It was pretty decent year this year. We had good rainfall this year, and the nuts were able to reach their full size,” she said.
Joe Ihle, 91, who has been growing pecans for about 60 years in Creek County's Deep Fork River bottom, will spend part of Christmas Day checking his pecan trees for damage from ice.
Ihle just completed his harvest, which he said was good this year, and is now in the process of cleaning up the orchard, pruning and getting the trees ready for next year's harvest.
“There's always something to do,” Ihle said. “I'll never retire — I wouldn't know what to do with myself.”