With his pecan crop approaching the end of nut fill, New Mexico grower Don Hackey had several reasons to be pleased with conditions in his orchards in mid-September. The best one was that he actually has a crop.
Last year, hail in May wiped out any chance for a decent season. By contrast, this year, his crop is bearing a good, solid crop. Barring any nasty shocks by Mother Nature over the next two months, he expects to harvest around 2,500 pounds of nuts per acre. That would be some four to five time more than his weather-ravaged trees produced in 2012.
“Considering the number of nuts on the trees this year, nut size is surprisingly good, too,” he adds.
Hackey, president of the Western Pecan Growers Association, and his family grow 270 acres of pecans on their D & E Orchards operation near Hatch, N. M. The trees, mostly Western Schley, with Bradley and Wichita pollinators, range in age from six to 14 years old.
Like other growers in this area, where drought has ruled for the past few years, Hackey’s spirits have been buoyed by an unusually wet monsoon season. Since it began in early July, he estimates this seasonal influx of moist tropical air has dropped about 8.5 inches of rain on his orchards. Prior to that, he had measured just 1.5 of rain since the first of the year.
Because of a several-year-long dry spell, pecan growers received only enough water from the Rio Grande River this season for one flood irrigation. The rest has been pumped from the ground. “One inch of rain allows us to delay irrigation by three or four days,” Hackey says. “That helps reduce our pumping costs.”
That’s not all. Water pumped from the ground contains more salts then river water. With water tables dropping, growers are forced to go deeper where there the water they’re pumping contains more salts. Without the benefit of river water to flush them out, these salts are accumulating in the soil and appearing as a white crust on the orchard floors as the soils dry out between irrigations.
This year’s monsoons may offer some relief. By also bringing needed rain to the parched mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, they should help refill soil profiles there. “Then, if we get a good snow pack in the mountains this winter, we might get enough runoff to help restore water levels in Rio Grande and the reservoirs,” he says. “With more river water for irrigation next year, we could start leaching the salts out of our soils.”
The rains this summer may even help Hackey in controlling aphids. In June, made one insecticide application on his trees to control yellow aphids. He’s planning another treatment in the later part of September to control yellow and black aphids. Heavy rains had knocked the population down to minimal level but they’ve since start building back up. “The rains have delayed spraying by about two weeks,” he says. “But, we’ll have to give the aphids one last shot for the year.”