September 30, 2013
Gary Underwood of Baldwin County sold all his seedlings early this season.
Rising pecan exports, coupled with record-high prices, have created a boom for seedlings of the shady Southern staple.
Prices topped $2.59 cents per pound in 2011, and then leveled to $1.73 per pound last year. That hasn’t stopped people from rushing to buy pecan seedlings in hopes of making big money one day. Those fortune hunters created more markets for nurserymen like Gary Underwood in Summerdale.
“I’ve always sold out, but I’ve been sold out of trees for this winter for a month,” Underwood said in early September. He is president of the National Pecan Growers Association and is already taking seedling orders for next year.
Underwood grafts about 4,000 seedlings a year and is a leading innovator in the pecan nursery business. He’s worked with Auburn University researchers like Bill Goff, horticulture professor and pecan Extension specialist, to graft new disease-resistant, large-nut pecan varieties. The pair also developed a grafting method that allows trees to be sold and planted in six to 10 months. Normally, it takes two or three years in a container before a pecan tree can be planted.
Despite a national economic downturn, Underwood said his business has improved. However, he’s cautious about the long-term effects of a flood of new trees, noting it takes about five years for a tree to produce nuts.
“In a few years, we could see a dramatic fall in price,” Goff said. “There are a million pecan seedlings in the ground in Georgia alone.”
Nurseries already growing pecan seedlings are in a good position, but there is still a shortage for large nuts, Goff said.
Excessive rainfall in the South this year created problems of pecan scab disease in Desirables because of the variety’s vulnerability to the disease. Auburn University researchers and others have developed new varieties resistant to problems that plague Desirables.
“I would advise growers to focus on scab-resistant, large-nut varieties, and for anyone planting orchards, that’s what they need to plant, too,” Goff said.
Underwood travels internationally marketing pecans. He said it’s impossible to predict future pecan demand, but the National Pecan Growers Association is working hard to keep prices up by expanding pecan markets.
“We have been aggressively attending food shows because in 10 years, there will be a lot more pecans available,” he says, “and we want to have markets for them.”
For more information about pecan seedlings, contact your local Extension System office.