About six weeks later than usual, Jay Glover, Tularosa, N.M., finally began harvesting his 2011 pecan crop, predominately Western Schley, on Jan. 7.
In his 41 years of growing pecans, the Otero County farmer, who has 280 acres of pecans, has never started shaking his trees that late. While he was pleased with the speed and smoothness of the harvest, once it got under way, Glover was disappointed about the prices of the new crop pecans.
As with other pecan growers in southeastern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, Glover’s harvest operations were hampered by off-and-on rain and snow in December. With all the leaves on the orchard floor, the ground wouldn’t dry enough to support equipment, so he had to bring in crews with backpack blowers to move the leaves aside. That added about extra 3 percent to his harvest costs.
But, once he could get into the orchards, the weather cooperated and he was able to get the last nuts off the trees Feb. 7, about a week earlier than his latest-ever harvest finish.
His yields were about average for the on-year 2011 crop, Glover says. But for wind and hail, he might have brought in a record-size crop. Four windstorms, including two particularly strong ones, swept through the orchards in September and October. The first one, Sept. 3, knocked about 10 percent of the nuts to the ground. Eight weeks later, another storm blew another 10 percent onto the ground.
Compounding the damage was a mid-September hailstorm. “It damaged about 5 percent of my crop — but a neighbor sustained damage to about 80 percent of his crop. The hail didn’t knock the nuts off the trees, but it bruised the shucks, causing a lot of sticktights. They can’t be sold as No. 1 grade because they won’t hull and usually have underdeveloped meats.”
As a result of the weather damage, Glover took a hit on the prices he received. “In one block, where we harvested 400,000 pounds of nuts, 69,000 pounds, or 17 percent, graded No. 2,” he says. “That’s a very high percentage.”
The quality of pecans that escaped the wind and hail damage held up, however. The kernel percentage was a respectable 56 percent to 57 percent, and nut size ranged 56 to 65 per pound. That count was considerably better than he saw in some of the fields he harvested for other growers.
“With our custom work, the nut count averaged about 90 per pound,” Glover says. “In some cases, it took as many as 130 nuts to make a pound — that’s almost as small as native pecans, rather than the improved varieties we grow here.”
Those smaller nuts are worth less in the market, he says. “I’ve heard of one buyer who was docking growers for any nut count over 80, and another who was docking the price on any counts above 85 per pound. That’s very unusual.”
Disregarding the discount for lower quality product, current pecan prices aren’t what Glover had expected.
Last year, he sold No., 1 pecans for about $5 a point. (For pecans a pointis based on pounds of edible nut meat. So, assuming a 55 percent shell-out, a price of $5 per point is equivalent to an inshell price of $2.75 per pound, or $5.00 x .55.) This year, he says, prices have slipped to the range of $4.65 to $4.70 per point.
“I thought they’d be higher,” he says. “The carry-in from the 2010 crop was low, and nationwide the 2011 crop wasn’t that big for an on year. A smaller supply, with consumption continuing at a high rate, should cause price to go up — but, we didn’t see that.”
This could reflect consumer resistance, he notes. “Pecan prices have risen significantly the last three years. I think end-users are balking at the price of nut meats, so shellers are having a difficult time signing meat contracts that will support higher inshell prices.”
But he’s not complaining. “In today’s economy, agriculture is a pretty good place to be, and pecans are about as strong as any crop right now,” Glover says. “I think the pecan market will continue strong, at least for the next several years, due to the amount of nuts the Chinese are consuming.
“Now’s a good time to take advantage of the high price for our crop to get equipment and land paid off. Then, if something happens, I can still function at a price of $2.75 or $3.00 per point; I’ve sold nuts for that many times in the past.”