As early variety pecan harvest gets under way in south Texas, the bulk of commercial orchards across the Lone Star State, in southern New Mexico, and across Oklahoma are preparing for a November start to a harvest expected to bring a combined three-state yield of some 120 to 130 million pounds of pecans.

While that number is significantly better than a drought-stressed pecan crop last year, not all news is good news for Southwest pecan growers.

Texas AgriLife pecan specialist Dr. Larry Stein says nut sizes in Texas may be a little smaller than usual, but says there is an abundance of pecans on Texas trees. (For more information on the Texas crop see: http://southwestfarmpress.com/orchard-crops/texas-pecan-crop-expected-be-about-65-million-pounds.) He says nut quality is relatively good across the state and nut flavor is good as well. The same is true for pecans in Southern New Mexico.

Woods Houghton, Eddy County Extension Service agriculture agent in Carlsbad, says trees are loaded with nuts but continuing drought conditions have sheared back hopes of a bumper year.

“Condition and flavor are still excellent so all in all it is going to be a good year. But until we see more rain, we’re probably not going to see great improvement in yields in New Mexico,” Houghton said.

He said hail storms in the spring damaged a large number of trees in Dona Ana County, but re-sprouted early enough to insure an adequate crop.

As in previous years, however, a strong Chinese market is expected to help keep the price of pecans at a profitable level. Monte Nesbitt, Texas AgriLife horticulture specialist in College Station, reports Chinese imports of U.S. pecans have continued to grow over the last eight years and he expects this year will be no exception. He points to last year’s 80 million pounds of pecan exports to China as a healthy sign that pecans have taken root in Chinese society.

Nesbitt credited a trade mission of U.S. pecan growers intent on taking their nut to the world for starting the pecan popularity in China. But he said other factors lined up to cause the surge as well.

Along with its ease of cracking and larger pieces, he added, the Chinese were also ready for pecans for other reasons: their large and growing middle class currently has more money to spend on fresh produce and Western, American food is in vogue in China.

But Houghton is not as optimistic about the Chinese market this year, and says as Mexico’s growing pecan industry begins to mature, pressure from global competition will become a factor U.S. growers should expect this year and in the years ahead.