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Ice Storms Devastating To Pecan Orchards

March 24, 2009

Study shows economic impact of storm damage, recovery efforts

Ice storms and other severe weather can have devastating impacts on agricultural crops, including perennial tree crops. Major ice storms occur at least once a decade, with truly catastrophic “icing events” recorded once or twice a century within a broad belt extending from eastern Texas through New England. Ice storms can result in overwhelming losses to orchards and expensive cleanup for producers.

Because the long limbs of pecan trees act as levers and increase the likelihood of breakage, pecan orchards and groves are particularly susceptible to damage from tornadoes, hurricanes, and ice storms. Ice damage is typically more severe in pecan orchards than other orchard crops.

Oklahoma has 85,740 acres of pecans on 2,879 farms. Ice storms struck Oklahoma four times from 2000 through 2007. The crippling ice storm in December 2000, which hit the southeast quarter of Oklahoma, extended into parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 acres of pecans were damaged in Oklahoma during this storm alone.

Michael W. Smith from the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Oklahoma State University, and Charles T. Rohla of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation published a research report in the latest issue of HortTechnology that provides pecan producers, government agencies, and insurance companies with important information concerning orchard management and economics following destructive ice storms.

Cleanup of pecan orchards following ice damage presents enormous challenges for producers. Typical damage, cleanup, and recovery from four ice storms that hit the region from 2000 to 2007 were reported in the study. Trees less than 15 feet tall typically had the least damage; trees 15 to 30 feet tall incurred as much or more damage than larger trees and cleanup costs were greater.

The silver lining: pecan trees are resilient. Most trees can survive and eventually return to productivity following loss of most of their crown. But cleanup costs to ice-damaged pecan orchards are high, ranging from $207 to $419 per acre based on the dollar value in 2008. According to the researchers, these costs were consistent among orchards where the owner supervised the labor and had the resources to obtain equipment necessary to prune and remove debris from the orchard. The cleanup costs paid to “custom operators” for renovating orchards following ice storms were significantly more expensive, ranging from $500 to $800 per acre in 2008 for orchards with similar damage levels.

Explaining the outcomes of the research study, Smith stated; “Following damaging weather events, producers seek information concerning effective cleanup procedures, subsequent management, recovery duration, and economic impact. State and Federal agencies and insurance companies seek guidance concerning economic impact and how to assist producers. Our objective was to provide information for producers and others regarding the impact of an ice storm on pecans.”

Image Caption: This is the aftermath of an ice storm in a pecan grove near Eufaula, Okla. Credit: Photo by O.B.

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