By the beginning of the last week of April, the pecan trees in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley were about halfway through pollination.
Following bud break the third week of March, growers started seeing flower set around April 7, says Louie Salopek, immediate past president of the Western Pecan Growers Association. “That’s when the tips of green receptors on the flowers began turning black, indicating they had been pollinated. It’s still early, but, so far, the fruit set looks promising.”
Salopek and his brothers, Bill, Dickie and Michael, have 1,200 acres of pecans in their two orchard operations, Tom Salopek Farms and Salopek 4MP, near Las Cruces. The trees, mainly Western Schley, with Wichita and Bradley pollinators, range from three to 40 years of age.
Mirroring the industry, the Salopeks are upbeat this spring.
“Overall, pecan growers are in an excellent mood,” Louie says. “Last year, we enjoyed record high prices and demand is really good. The Chinese have already contacted some guys around here to buy this year’s pecans. It’s a great time for anyone in the industry, and our prospects should be pretty good for at least several years to come.”
Louie visits orchards throughout the valley regularly in his work with another family business, Western Blend, Inc., a fertilizer manufacturer at Las Cruces. He’s been seeing some effects of the sub-zero temperatures in early February on younger Wichitas.
“It’s killed a small percentage of the four- to six-year-old trees,” he says. “Other than that, I haven’t heard of any other damage.”
A very strong La Niña weather cycle, with extremely dry conditions in the Rio Grande River basin, has resulted in lower than anticipated mountain snowpack runoff into the river. As a result, water will be a problem this season for irrigators in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.
“Sometimes we’re allocated as much as 3.5 acre feet of water for a season,” Louis says. “But this year growers will get just 3 inches; we’ll have to supplement that with water from wells.”
Meanwhile, orchards have been humming with activity. In the last part of April, growers were making their second foliar applications of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium, along with zinc and other micronutrients. Depending on soils, growers were irrigating for the third or fourth time this season. The last week of April included once-a-year applications of systemic insecticides to control black and yellow aphids.
“Later this spring, growers will start trapping pecan nut casebearers, and if populations reach threshold levels, they will spray for the pest in June or July,” Louie says.