Most Avoyelles crops have ‘average’ year

This year has been tough on farmers, but overall Avoyelles Parish crops should be close to the five-year average yields, County Agent Justin Dufour said.

Almost all soybeans and cotton crops have been harvested. Sweet potatoes are about two/thirds finished and sugar cane is in the early stage of harvest, Dufour noted.

“In general, I would have to say that there is a lot to be desired for most of our crops this year,” he said. “We had several weather-related events during the year that affected our crops.”

Soybeans probably took the biggest hit, with Hurricane Barry bringing heavy rains at the worst time. The outlook for soybeans was iffy even before growing season began due to questions about the quality of seeds, he added.

“A lot of beans flooded due to Barry,” Dufour said.

Some beans harvested early had good yields but “overall the yield for the parish is probably below our five-year average.” Dufour said the parish had good-quality cotton this year, but also suffered from weather and field conditions. Despite that, cotton production “will be at or slightly above the 5-year average.”

ANXIOUS YAM FARMERS

Every autumn rainfall adds to the anxiety of the sweet potato farmers, Dufour noted.

“The longer the potatoes sit in the field, the worse the anxiety gets,” he said. “There are many fields that are de-vined and just waiting to get the harvester in.”

The sweet potato harvest is well along now and there have been no reports of significant loss due to weather, Dufour said. Some have been delayed due to field conditions.

“Overall it looks like the yield for sweet potatoes will be slightly above the 5-year average,” he said. “If we get fair weather, the outlook is good. But, like with other crops, we are at the mercy of the weather.” Some rice farmers were adversely affected by Hurricane Barry, but most were not harmed too badly.

Rice production should be above average, he said.

Corn production was mixed, but most farmers reported a below-average yield.

“We had a wet spring followed by a dry summer,” Dufour said. “The reports were all over the board for corn farmers.”

PECANS: MIXED REVIEWS

While not one of Avoyelles’ main “cash crops,” there is always a lot of interest in the parish’s pecan production.

While there are a few commercial-level pecan orchards, most of the interest is from residents who have one or more pecan trees in their yards. “There have been mixed reviews on pecans this year,” Dufour said. “Some are reporting problems while others say their trees are producing well.

“The problem is with the residential trees, which usually are not treated with herbicides or insecticides,” he continued. “They are also susceptible to a condition called ‘scab,’ caused by high humidity and moisture levels and high temperatures.”

“Scab” starts as a black blotch on the hull of the nut, then continues until it penetrates the shell and attacks the meat of the nut, causing it to become discolored.

One local pecan-related businessman said the problem with pecans this year is not in quantity but in quality.

Steve Mayeux, who owns the humorously named Longbridge Crack House, said he has been busy cracking pecans “but there are a lot of bad pecans out there. It seems the amount of pecans is heavier, but the quality is lacking.”

Mayeux said “scab” is one cause of the poor quality. The other is the fact that August and September were dry “and pecan trees need rain in those months to fill out the pecans.”

There is a move afoot to create a pecan marketing campaign that could result in pecans becoming another cash crop in the parish, Mayeux noted.

‘WAVE OF THE FUTURE’

“Pecans may be the wave of the future for this parish,” he said. “I know some people have started planting pecan trees. There are a few small commercial pecan operations in the parish and there are a few large orchards in the parish.”

Those buying pecans are paying about 50 cents a pound right now. Mayeux does not know if that will get much higher before the end of the year.

“If this marketing effort is successful, and pecans become a highly desirable nut -- like pistachios -- people may be able to sell their pecans in coming years for $1 or $1.50 per pound,” Mayeux said.

“For me, my business is better when the price is low,” he continued. “If the price was $1 a pound, people who pick their pecans would say, ‘I’m going to sell them.’ At 50 cents a pound, they are more likely to say, ‘I think I’ll have these cracked and make some pralines and pecan pies.’”

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