Georgia and Alabama, the two key states in the US pecan belt which spans 17 states from California to Texas, were the worst hit with Georgia, which normally produces 120 million pounds of pecans annually, losing an estimated 50 per cent of its already reduced pecan crop. Georgia's pecan crop was about 45 to 60 days from harvest when Hurricane Frances struck.
Alabama, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan, lost 80 per cent of its total crop, say plant health specialists this week at the American Phytopathological Society (APS).
The US is a major exporter of pecan nuts, supplying food makers with an ingredient used in a range of formulations including cakes, biscuits and ice creams. In the 2004 season to July the US exported some 45,711 (1000 pounds) of pecans, up 4.2 per cent on the year before.
But Jose Peña, Texas Cooperative Extension economist told Texas University this week that new crop pecan halves have been priced at about $6-$7 per pound at the retail level, up from $4.50-$5.50 per pound in 2003. Peña suggests that the prices may adapt when more pecans are harvested.
When rated next to other tree nuts, pecans in the US are currently about 10 per cent to 15 per cent above the price of almonds and walnuts. According to Pena, excellent quality pecans are bringing $1.50 per pound to $2 per pound at the farm level, depending on the variety and quality.
The price of pecans may not find relief next year as APS scientists contend that another problem brought on by the hurricanes is increased pecan disease.
"Next year's crop is dependent on the health of the trees when they go into winter," said Tim Brenneman, a plant pathologist at the University of Georgia.
According to the pathologist Phytophthora shuck and kernel rot, not normally present, has appeared in the middle of the Georgia pecan growing area. The disease,caused by a fungus-like organism, occurs when there is an extended period ofcool, wet weather much like the weather caused by the hurricanes. The appearanceof this disease has really compounded the situation, added Brenneman.