The biggest concern right now for most pecan growers is the delay in ‘Stuart’ shuck split. I have had many calls asking “Will these nuts ever open”? For the most part, yes they will. The delay in Stuart shuck split should not really come as a surprise. Stuart always has a prolonged shuck split. They never all open at once as they do for some varieties. I warned growers about this in my post on September 29 of this year. This characteristic of Stuart is well documented. Dr. Darrell Sparks’ 1992 book, Pecan Cultivars has this to say regarding Stuart shuck split: “However an undesirable trait (of Stuart) is that shuck dehiscence is staggered over a long period and the tree normally has to be shaken multiple times during the harvest season”.
So, it should be no surprise that not all Stuart nuts are still not open. A couple of things have made this seem like a greater problem than normal:
1. This year’s nut maturity has been running behind last year’s all season and many growers have been anxious and under the gun to fill mid-November contract orders due to the early Chinese New Year. This has led to many growers shaking Stuarts before they were really ready. Obviously in that situation you only get a few nuts down and especially on the first early shake you get a lot of green nuts out. Many growers have shaken Stuarts twice already and because the shuck split is so drawn out they get the same results on the second shake and this generates alarm but I believe the rest of these nuts will open, although obviously not for mid November contracts.
2. We are in a severe drought. Many areas of Georgia’s pecan belt have had no rain since early September. Even with irrigation this has delayed shuck split on Stuart even more. Also, many growers turned their irrigation systems off too early or never turned them back on after harvesting individual orchards for the first time. With a heavy crop load, this will create additional stress and you will see a further delay in shuck split, sprouting, and shuck decline or stick-tights. Trees at the extreme of this situation will likely have nuts that may not open but the only real chance to get them open (outside of a good rain) is to turn the irrigation back on. It sounds crazy for us in the SE to irrigate pecans into November but when it is this dry it becomes necessary. You don’t have to water much but irrigate for 4-6 hours a couple of times a week—or every other day if you have trees in the situation described above.
Don’t expect to get all of your Stuart crop in until at least December or until we have a good rain and/or some cold weather. I think if growers look back at their records they will see that, for the most part, this is normally the case.