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Hurricane Michael propels NM to tops in pecan production

Pecans in a research orchard at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Doña Ana County is the top pecan-producing county in the country. (Source Courtesy of NMSU)

Hurricane Michael made landfall in the southern United States last year, and wiped out large swaths of Georgia’s pecan crop, propelling New Mexico to become the national leader in production of the nut.

New Mexico produced about 90 million pounds of pecans in 2018, down about 2 million from 2017, per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the state reported a growth of almost 50 million pounds in the last decade from 2008’s production of 43 million pounds.

Georgia, traditionally the United States’ largest pecan-producing state, saw its crop crippled by the storm, cutting production by almost half from 107 million pounds to 56 million.

Texas was ranked third, records show, at 28 million pounds and Arizona was fourth at 25 million pounds.

Lenny Wells, associate professor of horticulture with a focus on pecans at the University of Georgia, said 17 percent of the state’s pecan acreage was lost in the storm.

Georgia also lost about $100 million in pecan crops, and $260 million in tree loss and up to $200 million in lost future income, Wells said.

“The damage we suffered from the hurricane was pretty bad,” Wells said. “Along its path, we had some pretty severe devastation.”

The storm landed in the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, and quickly moved into Georgia’s southwest corner with winds up to 125 miles per hour.

It proceeded into the state with winds maintained at about 100 miles per hour, uprooting and destroying pecan orchards along the way.

“(Pecans) tend to come back surprisingly well. We’re hopeful next year will be better than this year.”

About 97 percent of New Mexico’s 92 million pounds of pecans were produced in five of the state’s 33 counties in 2017, per the most recent data from the USDA’s New Mexico Annual Bulletin.

And most of it is in the south.

About 66.9 million pounds or 73 percent of the statewide crop came from Doña Ana County, records show, with Eddy County producing about 10.4 million pounds or about 11 percent of New Mexico’s pecans.

Other producing counties included Chaves County at about 9 percent of the state’s crop, Luna County at 2 percent and Sierra County which produced about 670,000 pounds or 0.8 percent.

“We’ve got some of the best pecans in the world. It’s pretty impressive because pecans are not native to New Mexico.”

Woods Houghton, Eddy County extension agent with New Mexico State University said the state’s dry, warm weather helps the pecan industry grow, but it’s really about nut quality.

New Mexico pecans are considered “improved varieties” not native to the state but ideal for its conditions.

 

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