LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- Georgia had the larger pecan crop in the U.S. last year, but New Mexico's pecans ranked first by value, the Department of Agriculture said.
The New Mexico pecan crop harvested last fall and winter was valued at $119.7 million, compared with the $114.9 million brought in by Georgia pecans, according to figures released Wednesday by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
New Mexico produced 68 million pounds of pecans in the shell in 2009 to rank No. 2; Georgia produced about 79 million pounds to come in first.
But New Mexico recorded the highest price per pound in the shell - $1.76. Arizona ranked second at $1.72 per pound, and California was third with $1.51 per pound.
Las Cruces pecan grower and buyer Phil Arnold said New Mexico's pecans are meatier than the nuts grown in Georgia.
"So it's not surprising hearing those figures," he said.
New Mexico's growing conditions, including abundant sunshine, and its an intensely managed crop also help produce high-quality pecans, Arnold said.
In Georgia, he said, "they can plant a tree there and let it grow on its own. Here, if you quit irrigating them, they're going to die."
The grower said, however, the extra care given pecans in New Mexico means more expense for the farmer.
Pecan trees tend to produce a heavy crop one year, a so-called "on" year, and a lighter crop the next year, an "off" year.
Last season was an "on" year across the nation.
New Mexico's 2009 crop was valued at about $23 million more than the crop for 2007, the last "on" year. The crop in 2007 was larger, however, according to the statistics.
A marketing specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, James Ditmore, said New Mexico's price per pound has increased by 40 cents since 2007.
He attributed that to the state's exports to China.