Larry Don Womack is the owner of an 8,000-acre pecan farm 90 miles southwest of Fort Worth. But lately, he’s also been playing the role of doctor and mortician for the trees.
He’s not alone.
Womack, chairman of the Fort-worth based American Pecan Council, said the past three years have been tough for Texas pecan farmers. In some areas of the state, the combination of drought, extreme heat and cold has killed 20% of trees. This year, crews are cutting branches of his dead pecan trees to make firewood.
“As you drive around out in the country, you’ll see a pretty high death loss in some trees in Texas,” Womack said.
In a banner year, Texas produces 60-70 million pounds of pecans. Right now, the trees are expected to produce about 32 million, he said. Despite the loss, Womack and pecan experts say shoppers shouldn’t see higher prices or a shortage of pecans.
Texas is home to up to 1 million acres of native pecan trees and produces the third largest harvest in the country, Larry Stein, professor and extension horticulturist at Texas A&M University, said. Native pecan trees grow in rich soil along creeks and rivers that absorb rain during the spring, allowing them to survive the summer heat, he said. Trees that aren’t planted in that type of soil didn’t do as well, as they baked in a summer with the fourth most 100-degree days in history.
“We have areas where even native pecans have died, because the soil where they’re living is not the best,” Stein said. “It’s shallow, rocky. And when you have that type of situation and you stress them without water, then obviously something’s got to pay. And a lot of those trees are suffering and still suffering.”
Stressed by the heat, the trees produced smaller nuts this year, Stein said, but didn’t sacrifice the quality.
“The trees that were stressed make smaller nuts, but then that allowed them to go ahead and fill out those pecans,” he said.
Pecan trees are alternate bearing crops, which means some years will have more pecans than others. Texas will have less of a harvest this year, but producers from other states such as Georgia will fill in demand, Womack said.
The extreme heat this summer cost the overall economy $9.5 billion in Texas, according to an estimate from The Perryman Group. Farmers took the largest financial hit, according to the report. Between the losses and inflation, Womack said farmers are feeling the pain.
“It’ll be OK for consumers,” Womack said. “But growers — it’s tough. It’s tough on the farm.”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @sbodine120. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.