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Federal Act may have major impact on pecan growers

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SHREVEPORT, La. – Pecan growers meeting at the LSU AgCenter Pecan Research Station May 3 heard that proposed federal regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act could have a major effect on their operations.

"This has caused considerable concern among all fresh produce growers," said LSU AgCenter Associate Vice Chancellor Rogers Leonard.

"There is no doubt there will be more strict guidelines in place, and they won't all be pleasant to implement. They probably will increase producers' input costs for production," Leonard said. "Many of the farmers markets across the state ultimately could be affected."

The comment period on the proposed regulations is open for public input, he said.

A priority position in the AgCenter is an extension specialist with responsibilities for food safety issues at the farm level.

Among the proposed regulations is one that would prevent cattle grazing in pecan orchards within nine months before a pecan crop is harvested, Leonard said. This would effectively eliminate cattle grazing in those orchards.

The FDA is proposing that producers would have to monitor for the presence of animals in production fields and orchards.

The regulations will have to be science-based, and "we hope that FSMA will allow for some flexibility," Leonard said. "Currently no changes in current policies have been approved, and we will have to wait until EPA approves and publishes the final rules to determine the ultimate impact and necessary educational programs."

Last year's pecan crop was beset with problems, especially for late maturing varieties, said LSU AgCenter pecan specialist Charlie Graham. "If you were early, you were in pretty good shape."

The industry in Louisiana hasn't had a good overall crop since 2007, Graham said. "If you did everything you could do and did it right last year, it got you an average crop."

Scab disease was a problem if trees were left untreated, he said.

Pecans that didn't mature until after Hurricane Isaac had problems, he said, and this year's crop is not starting out well.

But Tom Childress, a Georgia grower at the meeting, said the crop there is looking good. But scab is showing up already.

Growers should vary their fungicides and not depend on the same one repeatedly, said LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Randy Sanderlin. Tank mixes of fungicides will hasten resistance.

LSU AgCenter entomologist Mike Hall also urged rotating chemicals for controlling insects.

He recommended against spraying all trees for phylloxera, choosing instead to spray susceptible varieties.

Hall warned that the pecan weevil is showing up in north Louisiana. Monitoring traps placed in trees can be used to find out if the insect is present.

Texas producer Mike Graham spoke about the organization of the U.S. Pecan Council to market the American pecan crop.

Pecan growers should do what almond and pistachio producers did by uniting and conducting a nationwide advertising campaign that has boosted both commodities, he said. More pecans are expected to come on the market starting this year, so it is necessary to find ways to increase sales.

The pecan market has been stagnant for the past 50 years, Mike Graham said. "We've been our own worst enemy."

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