From the information we’ve been able to gather so far, the worst damage to pecans from Idalia seems to be from the SW corner of Georgia around Bainbridge along the state line, through Thomas and Brooks counties into Valdosta, then up through Berrien/Cook/Irwin and from there over to Ware and Pierce Counties. Going North of there in a band extending to Savannah and West to Montgomery county there is damage but it is much more sporadic and of less severity. This is consistent with what we normally see in that the further N you go the less damage there is. In the hardest hit areas, it is approaching Michael scale. Those that got hit, got hit bad, but from a state perspective the damage is far less than Michael.
Thousands of trees have been lost from the state line up to Berrien and Cook counties. Several large growers have reported an estimated 10,000-15,000 trees down from their orchards. Percentage of downed trees in this most severely impacted area range from 30%-80% of the trees down. Most of these are in the form of younger trees (20 yrs and under) that just uprooted and blew down or leaned over. There is also much limb breakage of older trees as the limbs were heavy at this time of year. In addition there is crop loss from nuts blowing out of the trees. The estimates on that range from 80% to 10% of the crop blown out along the storm’s path moving North from the state line. The most Westerly damage I have had reported has been Irwin county. It seems to be confined to the East side of I-75 once you move N of Cook county. As far as crop loss is concerned, this region probably produces about 1/3 of the state crop and as an early estimate I would say an average of 1/3 of the crop in that SE region was lost. Of course those on the south end lost more than that in some cases. We really won’t know the extent of crop loss until we get into harvest because when we have storms like this in which the wind beats the trees around even the nuts that remain on the tree can incur some damage as the xylem connections between the stem and nut can be damaged and as a result the flow of nutrients and water may not be sufficient to develop and mature the kernel properly. Damage to shucks banging together can lead to similar issues.
One thing is obvious to me. We have got to stop pushing these trees so hard for the first 4-5 years. We have been growing these young trees too fast and are producing trees with tops too large to be supported by their root systems. Even trees that were planted at the appropriate depth and had good lateral roots near the surface were blown over in this storm.
Especially in these more southerly counties that are so prone to storm damage, we probably need to cut back on the water and fertilizer we apply. Because it takes a tree so long to get into production, there is a lot of pressure to grow them fast and get them into production quickly, but pecans are a non-precocious, long-lived perennial crop and in the long run, I think we’ll be better off if we stop trying to work against the natural tendency of these trees and focus more on root system development than canopy development in the first few years. If trees are pushed, they need to be pruned hard and hedged early to bring the canopy down to what the root system can support.