A streak of 324 days without any measurable precipitation in Carlsbad, N.M., was broken Sept. 15, when the area received about two inches of rain.
That was good news for pecan growers in more ways than one.
“Eddy County seems to be in a perpetual drought, interrupted by moments of moisture,” says Woods Houghton, the county’s New Mexico State University Extension agricultural agent for the past 33 years.
The mid-September rain temporarily eased the flood irrigation needs of pecan orchards, and also eliminated the first fall armyworm threat to the trees in six years.
Usually the insect causes problems only when conditions are very dry. Fall armyworms are easily controlled by pyrethroids, he notes.
“We never have to worry about them in wet years and we don’t know why rain discourages them,” Woods says. “But, when things are really dry, they’ll take all the leaves off of just one or two weak trees on the edge of the orchard.”
Aphids were the insect growers have had to deal with this year. As usual, they were in the orchards for about six weeks, beginning in early July. Many growers can control them with a single soil application of a systemic insecticide in the spring. “A few producers were hit hard enough that they had to spray two or three times this summer,” Woods says.
Often, he notes, growers can knock the aphids down with one spray and rain will wash off the rest. But, with no rain this year, some orchards required extra treatments
After falling behind as much as two weeks due to sub-zero temperatures in early February, development of this year’s crop had advanced a little ahead of normal by mid-September, sporting good growth and color. Woods attributes the accelerated nut maturity to more heat units than usual in a summer when the thermometer topped the 100-degree mark on 76 different days — that’s 15 more than the previous record.
The added heat may mean an earlier start of harvest, which typically begins in mid-November, he says.