The 2012 harvest went much faster and easier for pecan growers in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley than the previous one. In 2011, wet weather hindered harvest and many growers didn’t finish shaking trees until late February.
This year, the valley’s pecan harvest was pretty well wrapped up by mid-January, reports Richard Heerema, New Mexico State University Extension pecan specialist. “A few really windy days shut down operations; we had rain one day and snow another time.” he says. “But, overall, that didn’t slow things down much. In fact, a lot of growers moved straight from harvesting to hedge pruning their trees. It was beautiful for things to go that smoothly this time.”
As expected, yields for the 2012 off-year crop were down from 2011 on-year levels. However, growers have been disappointed by lower-than-expect prices for their latest crop.
Shortly before harvest began, late-season spike in black-margined aphid populations had some growers walking a tight rope, Heerema notes. Prior to that, the population of pecan aphids – both yellow and black-margined – had been low throughout the season. But the huge increase in black-margined aphid numbers in the fall occurred when most, but not all, of the nuts had completed kernel fill.
“That left growers in a quandary,” Heerema says. “They had to decide if the cost of treating their trees outweighed whatever damage the aphids might cause at that point in season.”
As has been the case for the past several seasons, the supply and quality of irrigation water top the list of concerns for Mesilla Valley growers as they start a new crop year.
“The late fall and early winter weather was just about perfect for the harvest, but not for filling the reservoirs,” Heerema says. “We haven’t had any big storms to dump large amounts of snow in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado that provide irrigation water for the valley.
Computer simulations point to “a slight tendency” for continued below normal rainfall across much of the Southwest for the first three months of this year, reports John Nielsen-Gammon, regents professor at Texas A&M University and Texas state climatologist. He expects dry conditions will continue from March through May with “probably below normal rainfall” from June through August.
Without surface water for irrigation, growers with wells have been forced to draw on groundwater, typically with undesirable higher saline levels than surface water. High salts can damage trees as well as reduce water infiltration rates, resulting in excessive salts in the root zone.
“In the past, some pecan growers have been able to depend entirely on district water to produce a crop,” Heerema says. “But, that’s proven to be just about impossible now.”