Johnny Morgan | 7/19/2016 2:03:30 PM
Pecans and figs continue to be popular crops in Louisiana while continuous freezes in north Louisiana have nearly decimated the peach industry, said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Charlie Graham.
“During the decade of the 90s, I think there were only one or two years that there was a full peach crop in the state,” he said. “All of the other years, there were either total losses or partial crops due to late-season freezes.”
In addition to the freezes, disease also has been a big problem for peach growers, Graham said. “Some of the larger growers in the state have been battling armillaria root rot for the past decade.”
Graham said peaches are down to below 400 acres statewide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even include Louisiana in its list of peach production by state.
This is nearly opposite of the situation with pecans and figs.
“When you look at the pecan industry, for a number of decades, we didn’t see that much change in prices or production,” Graham said. “It was pretty much a stagnant industry.”
But in the late 2000s, there was a large increase in the export industry, with China being the driving force behind that increase. “They ramped up fairly quickly, beginning with about 10 million pounds and now import about 80 million pounds,” he said. “That has had a large impact on the price of pecans.”
By 2011, this caused pecan prices to rise to their highest price ever. “That has caused an increase in the number of trees being planted,” Graham said. “And another change we are seeing in the industry is growers now have funding to help promote the industry in foreign markets.”
The pecan industry continues to be strong, mainly because of increased exports to Asian and Middle Eastern countries, Graham said.
The U.S. pecan industry began working cooperatively with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in 2011, Graham said. It receives primarily Market Access Program funding but has also received some Emerging Markets Program funding.
This helps U.S. pecan growers participate in promotional activities aimed at expanding exports in several foreign countries.
Figs have been an important fruit crop in Louisiana for more than 150 years and are one of the most popular small fruit crops grown in the state, according to AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.
“With local farmers markets becoming more prominent in major population areas of the state, there is now more demand for fresh figs for local sales,” Owings said.
Louisiana retailers sell about 10 to 15 varieties of fig trees, but some individuals and small nurseries have many additional varieties, ranging up to as many as 60 to 100, he said.
“Figs are one of our lowest-maintenance fruit trees,” said AgCenter horticulturist Jason Stagg. They are relatively easy to grow and can easily fit into an organic food production system. Figs join blueberries and citrus as the most sold fruit plants at garden centers in Louisiana.
After being dormant for a number of years, the AgCenter renewed the process of selecting potential varieties in the 1990s under the leadership of AgCenter horticulturist Charlie Johnson, now retired. Since then, the AgCenter has released new varieties named Champagne, LSU Gold, LSU Purple, O’Rourke, Tiger and Scott’s Black.
“These selections are distinct from other available fig cultivars and offer a unique blend of color and size for commercial and residential use,” Stagg said. They enhance the diversity of fruit characteristics offered for sale and produce larger, good-quality fruit that can increase demand for retail sales.
The new releases also extended the harvest season for figs.
“In addition to these six varieties, several other unnamed figs from the LSU AgCenter program have been grown and distributed by fig enthusiasts over the years,” Stagg said.
The AgCenter now has one of the few accurate “true-to-type” fig variety collections in the Southeast, Owings said. The fig research program and orchard are being relocated from the AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden in Baton Rouge to the Hammond Research Station.
“The newly planted research orchard in Hammond will serve as an accurate germplasm collection, which will allow industry cooperators to obtain cuttings of desired varieties for 10 to 20 years into the future,” Stagg said.
Because figs are easily propagated and can be grown to a saleable tree in about 10 months, this should present a good opportunity for local plant nurseries.
Johnny Morgan is a specialist in AgCenter Communications.
Figs have been an important crop in Louisiana for more than 150 years.
Because of a rise in exports to China, the price of pecans for Louisiana growers has been better, although there still are highs and lows.