The tiny pecan nuts in Buddy Achen’s orchards near Las Cruces, N.M., were developing normally at early season, and the trees were in good shape.
But, that wasn’t the case for the rest of his Triple A Farms’ 600 acres of trees growing near Hatch, N.M, about 40 miles up the Mesilla Valley, where a week earlier two to three inches of hail pummeled trees there.
“The hail was pretty tough, and defoliated a lot of trees,” says the Doña Ana County grower, who also serves as treasurer of the Western Pecan Growers Association. “When the storm was over, the ground was green with leaves. The hail hit all our trees and knocked off a lot of little nutlets; in all, it affected about a 20 mile-wide area.”
That storm, which also brought about three-quarters inch of rain to his Las Cruces orchards, was the first precipitation the area had received this year, Achen says, and the long-running drought continues to challenge area farmers.
This year, he and other growers expect to receive just six acre-inches of water for the entire season. They must rely on groundwater to make up the difference, but the wells must be deep to get enough water — 200 foot wells aren’t adequate. Growers like Achen, with deeper wells (400 to 450 feet), should be all right this season.
This is an off-year for New Mexico’s alternate bearing pecans. The weather during pollination in April, including windy conditions, was typical for the area, he sayss. So was the nut set for an off-year. His main variety is Western Schley; pollinators are Wichita and Bradley.
In April, Achen fertilized orchards, making his annual applications of phosophorus, potassium and the first of five nitrogen applications for the season. He likes to broadcast or drill in nitrogen, unless fields are too wet for equipment, in which case he’ll apply nitrogen with irrigation water.
His main insect pest is the pecan nut casebearer, which generally shows up around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. To monitor their numbers, he uses traps, which he sets out about three weeks in advance of each expected appearance. As of mid-May, only a few had been trapped. If numbers are high enough, he’ll spray an insecticide to control them.
“Last year, we didn’t have a problem with the pecan nut casebearer,” he says. “We had an abnormally hard freeze in February, and it seems Mother Nature took care of them.”