In contrast to most New Mexico pecan growers, this is an on-year for the alternate-bearing trees in Bruce Haley’s orchards, and so far, it has been a good year.
By the end of June, nuts had grown to about 3/8-inch in length.
“Trees have a great color and are showing a pretty good crop this year,” Haley says. “Most of the terminal buds have clusters on them, and most of those clusters have anywhere from two to five nuts.”
Located in the Roswell area in the southeastern part of the state, the pecan operation dates back to the early 1960s, when Haley’s father planted the first trees. Every four or five years, he added another 20 to 40 acres, and once the pecan acreage totaled 260 acres, he stopped row crop farming and concentrated on expanding pecan production further.
Haley Farms has grown to include Mountain States Pecans and a partnership with Bonham Farms. The operation totals about 40,000 trees on 1,600. Western Schley accounts for 98 percent of the trees; the rest are Wichita pollinators.
The trees got a good jump on the 2012 growing season, Haley says. “Usually, we have a cold snap around Easter — but, not this year. The trees grew out early and kept right on going.”
As a result of the early spring, pollination started in the first part of April, rather than later in the month, as it normally does. The season’s first 100-degree days came in May, and that’s also earlier than normal. Later in the month, his farms escaped the hail that fell in some areas.
As usual, diseases in this desert area have not posed any threat thus far this season. Unlike last year, insects haven’t been a problem either.
Typically, he deals with black-margined aphids, black aphids, some pecan nut casebearers and, occasionally, walnut caterpillars.
Last year’s weather included a number of days when the thermometer topped 100 degrees. That kind of heat helps suppress aphid numbers; even so, black margined aphids, black aphids and yellow aphids caused problems.
Twelve months without any rain to wash off the buildup of honeydew from the aphids didn’t help matters. The accumulation of honeydew and the reduced photosynthesis contributed to growth of sooty mold.
“We kept watching for the aphid population to crash, but it only seemed to grow larger,” Haley recalls. “In September, we had to spray the tress several times with a broad spectrum chemical to control them.”
This year, it’s a different story. “So far, the orchards are very clean,” he says. “I don’t know why; we’ve had plenty of 100-degree days already this year, which probably helped. Also, the broad-spectrum insecticide treatment last year may have reduced populations this season, too.”
The spacing of Haley’s trees ranges from 30x30 feet, with 48 trees per acre, to 60x60 feet and 12 trees per acre.
Over the years Haley has tried various methods of managing growth of the large-statured trees to produce the most nuts with the least amount of shading.
“Like any tree crop, pecans respond differently to different fertilizer and hedging practices,” he says. “You work with the same individual trees year and year. If one approach doesn’t produce the results you want, you can’t afford to replant. You have to keep working with that tree until you get it right. It’s a constant learning process.”
At one time, for example, he would hedge all four sides of a tree and reshape the top in the same year. “We’d get two years of zero production, followed by two years of tremendous yields as they recovered, and then we’d start over again,” he says. “If a freeze took out a crop during one of the two really good years, then we’d get only one year of production in a four-year period.”
In another program, he reduced the number of trees per acre to give the remaining trees more room to grow and produce more nuts. But, a bad ice storm resulted in a lot of structural damage to the largest trees.
Haley has also tried hedging all four sides of the trees in every fourth row on a four-year cycle. Thus, 25 percent of the trees in an orchard would be hedged all around in any given year. Now, he is cutting one side of each tree every year.