Based on the crop load his trees are carrying in early August, this could be a particularly productive on-year for Mike Prude’s pecan orchards in the Pecos Valley of southeastern New Mexico. “We have a good crop on the trees,” he says.
Prude is operations manager for Seven Rivers, Inc., Carlsbad, N.M. His 850 acres of flood-irrigated trees range from those planted just last year to some that have been producing a marketable crop for more than 50 years.
He’s expecting yields of about 3,000 pounds per acre this season. That’s at least 500 pounds or so more than his trees typically produce in an on-year.
This 2012 estimate compares to last season when Prude harvested an off-year crop that weighed in at 1,100 to 1,200 pounds per acre. Those meager yields, which followed severe freeze damage to the trees the previous year, 2010, explain the big rebound in production this season, Prude notes.
Now, the nuts are pretty well filled, having just completed their water stage. They should shell out with a kernel yield of around 56 percent to 57 percent, Prude reports. “Everyone strives for a minimum 55 percent grade,” he says. “Last year we had some fields with 58 percent and 59 percent grade.”
Prude has been growing pecans here for the past 26 years. This is one of the hottest and driest seasons he’s experienced, as drought continues. Aug. 8 marked the 18th straight day of temperatures ranging from 104 to 116 degrees, he reports. Temperatures in the region topped 100 in 65 out of the preceding 71 days.
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This area averages 12 inches of rainfall a year, much of it during the summer monsoons, Prude says. For all of 2011, he recorded just 6 inches of rain. In 2010, rainfall totaled about 13 inches.
“So far this year, we’ve have about 8 inches of rain,” he says. “While that may not sound all that bad, it’s really horrible. We got much of that on July 10, when 3 inches of rain fell on one of our farms. But, the other farms got less than an inch. The rest of the rains have been very light and scattered — a fourth of an inch or half an inch there. In fact, it took 25 different rains to make up the other 5-inch balance.”
Rainfall is needed to replenish supplies of groundwater, the only source for irrigating the trees with about 3 to 4 acre-feet water annually. “Our groundwater levels are down a lot,” Prude adds.
The only insects that pose a threat to his trees are aphids and the pecan nut casebearer. Even then, the pecan nut casebearer is seldom a problem. “We have the only orchards within about a 15-mile radius,” he says. “That helps isolate us from the insect. By treating for them for more than 26 years, we’ve reduced their numbers to the point that this pest is very manageable. The last time we had a big spike of the pecan nut casebearer was in 2007. Some years the numbers are so low that you might consider not treating for them. But, we feel it is better to stay on top of this to prevent excess build -up.”
As frequently happens, yellow aphids started showing up in his orchards in early August. He treated his trees with a systemic insecticide in late spring to control them. If needed, he’ll spray again this season. Although black aphids can also move into his trees, he hasn’t seen any so far this year.
Prude hedges each tree on a two-year cycle. Usually, he hedges two sides (10-degree slope) and the tops (45-degree slope) of every row of trees in half of the farms each year. “Also we’re fortunate that we can cross hedge in some of our fields. Eventually, that allows the tree to be hedged all the way around.”
Over the years, he’s tried various tree spacings, including 30-by-60 feet and 40-by-40 feet. However, he likes the 35-by-35-foot diamond spacing. “Because it doesn’t crowd the trees, this spacing results in more consistent production, allows for consistent uptake of nutrients by the trees and it makes better use of the land,” he says.