When Baldwin County pecan grower Gary Underwood thinks back on 2017, he’ll remember rain — over 100 inches of it.
“Alabama’s pecan industry took a hard blow since it was so wet,” said Underwood, whose pecan orchards cover 115 acres in Summerdale. “The early crop was fine and good quality. Then Hurricane Nate went just west of us (in early October). We didn’t have hurricane-force winds, but the storm was active enough it beat the pecans together, and some were bruised.”
The rain rarely seemed to stop after Hurricane Nate, with another 20 inches during harvest season.
“We couldn’t get in the field, so the pecans just sat on the ground,” he said. “Some of those started to rot because they’d been on the ground since the hurricane. We lost a third or more of the crop due to issues with Hurricane Nate, and the quality of what we did harvest was lowered.”
Underwood sells pecans directly to customers. As a quality control measure, his pecans are cracked and sifted through before they’re sold.
“When you retail to the ultimate consumer, quality is everything,” he said. “We don’t want them cracking 10 pounds of in-shell pecans and then have nearly a pound of them be bad. We go through the product to make sure people get what they pay for.”
The most active hurricane season this decade negatively impacted the pecan crop in other southern states, with Hurricane Harvey flooding Texas and hurricanes Irma and Maria in Florida and Georgia. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the Southeast lost about 30 percent of its pecan crop.
“Georgia and Texas are in the top three pecan-producing states in the country,” said Mac Higginbotham, Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture Division director. “Thankfully here in Alabama, our orchards didn’t lose many trees, so we expect the industry to rebound next year.”
Experts don’t anticipate a negative impact for consumers since U.S. production is expected to increase from 270 million in-shell pounds last year to 300 million this year. That's thanks to record pecan production in some Southwestern states.
In Summerdale, the trees are still standing strong, so Underwood has high hopes for 2018.
“I think they’ll come back with a full crop,” he said. “And the weather is something you can’t control.”
Watch Simply Southern TV's feature on the pecan crop by visiting SimplySouthernTV.net.