Say it ain’t so! Oyster dressing and pecan pie – both made with Louisiana-grown products – could be hard to get this holiday season and cause consumers to dig a little deeper in their pockets when they DO find them.
John Supan, an agent for the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Sea Grant College, says 2006 is the worst year for oysters in recent memory – mainly because Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not only ruined oyster beds but also wiped out the industry’s infrastructure in 2005.
"The situation right now is as bad as the drought years of 1989 and 1990 as far as yields go for oysters," Supan said. "What makes it worse is that the infrastructure is so heavily damaged."
Shucked oysters are approximately $35 for a half gallon or roughly a third higher than prices before the storm, Supan said. Prices for sacked oysters are even higher if consumers can find them. Most oyster dealers take care of wholesale accounts first because they provide the largest volume of sales. Sales to retail outlets or directly to customers come second and, in some instances, are going unfilled.
As it gets closer to Thanksgiving, there may be a glimmer of hope, according to Supan. "Texas opened public grounds on Nov. 1. Those grounds did not suffer as much damage as Louisiana grounds, so there may be an increase of oysters on the market if Texas has a good year. The consumer demand is still there."
Recent rains have kept pecan producers from harvesting this year’s crop. October is historically one of the driest months in Louisiana, but some areas of Louisiana received more than 15 inches of rain.
Overall, however, this year’s crop is looking good, according to Randy Sanderlin of the LSU AgCenter’s Pecan Research Station near Shreveport, La.
"It looks like we are going to have between 18-20 million pounds once we can get in there and harvest the crop," Sanderlin said.
This figure is above the 10-year average of 14 million pounds.
Sanderlin said a dry growing season, primarily during the summer months of July and August, has caused some quality issues with pecans.
"Some orchards did not get timely rains during the summer and may have smaller pecans than normal or the kernels may not be completely filled," he said.
Sanderlin believes this year’s higher yields will help offset this problem.
Prices are good for Louisiana growers, but consumers can expect to pay up to 25 percent more for pecans mainly because of a national shortage. This year’s national crop is expected to be off by nearly 50 million pounds. Much of the shortfall is because of much smaller crops in Georgia, New Mexico and Texas.
Sanderlin said buying fresh Louisiana pecans is a win-win situation for everyone.
"Growers can move their product, and consumers benefit by getting a fresh pecan rather than one that might have been in cold storage since last year’s harvest," he said.
In Louisiana, 70 percent of pecans come from native trees, with Pointe Coupee being the parish with the largest production.