Two days of rain in early September helped a little to replenish falling water tables beneath the pecan orchards in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley.
“We had a pretty spectacular lightning storm and pouring rain on a Friday night,” says Jeff Anderson, New Mexico State University Extension agricultural agent for Doña Ana County. “It rained all day Saturday before the weather turned clear and sunny on Sunday.”
By the time it was over, growers had received between 1 and 2 inches of rain, he reports. Up to then, precipitation since the first of the year totaled no more than about 2.5 inches in most orchards. This was the first rain in a month during a summer that brought only scattered rainfall to the valley.
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As a result of the prolonged drought here and in other areas of the Southwest, the valley water table has dropped as much as 40 feet, Anderson notes. The water level of the Elephant Butte Dam reservoir, the sole source of surface irrigation water for the Valley’s farmers, now stands at just 15 percent of capacity. This year, growers received only 10acre-inches of water from the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. That’s only one-sixth of the total water needed to produce a pecan crop.
Growers with no well water watched their fields and trees wither this season.
“The trees in those fields look like skeletons, with only a few green leaves on them,” Anderson says.
It’s a far different story for growers with wells.
“Those trees are healthy and looking good,” Anderson says. “The growers are really happy the way the crop is coming along. Many are predicting slightly above average yields this year.”
In many cases, it’s difficult to know if this is an on-year or an off-year for the valley’s pecan crop, he says. The familiar alternate bearing cycle has been disrupted by the sub-zero weather in early 2011 and by management practices of the growers to reduce the annual variation in production for their trees.
Last year’s freeze also seems to have wiped out the pecan nut casebearer, at least for this season.
“I haven’t heard of any sightings of the pest this year,” Anderson says. “The aphid populations dropped last year, too. But, they came back and some growers have had moderate pressure from them this season.”
“We have a great group of pecan growers here,” Anderson says. “If someone has a problem with controlling a pest, the growers really help each other. They know that if they don’t, the problem could spread to their trees.”