Water, nutrition, alternate bearing, and aphids are among the front-burner issues for Arizona pecan growers striving to produce a high quality crop with good yields.

A go-to guy in the Arizona pecan industry is Mike Kilby who knows pecans like the back of his hand. Kilby has 42 years under his belt working with the pecan industry. He retired 11 years ago as the University of Arizona (UA) Cooperative Extension fruit and nut crop specialist.

Today, he walks through pecan orchards as a consultant and owner of Kilby Ag Services in Sahuarita, Ariz.

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According to Kilby, effective water management is the paramount issue to gain production efficiencies in pecans.

“Arizona pecan growers should have a good water management program in place and keep fine-tuning it,” Kilby said.

Fine-tuning water use is an ongoing job. Across the state’s estimated 19,000 acres of pecans, flood irrigation is waning and drip-sprinkler irrigation is gaining favor. The current ratio is about 50-50.  

“Every grower establishing a new orchard should definitely consider drip-sprinkler irrigation,” Kilby said. “I prefer to establish an orchard with drip irrigation for trees for the first and second years, and then move to micro sprinklers. It saves water and the trees tend to respond very well.”

On average, pecan trees in the state require about 4.5-acre feet of water. Kilby estimates that a drip-sprinkler irrigation system saves at least 1-acre foot of water compared to flood irrigation.

Water is an ever-increasing precious resource in the West, including the Grand Canyon State. A dozen-plus consecutive years of drought threatens Arizona’s $12.3 billion agricultural industry.

The lack of rain and snow melt in the Colorado River basin has severely reduced water levels in major state reservoirs, including the Lake Meade and Lake Powell reservoirs. If filled to capacity, these two reservoirs would contain enough water to put the entire State of Pennsylvania under six inches of water.