New Mexico’s low pecan production during the off-crop cycle of 2008, coupled with historically high input costs and disappointing prices at harvest, highlight the importance of minimizing production costs.

One way to do that is to replace hand labor with much more efficient mechanical pruning, using a large circular saw that cuts more or less vertically.

As Richard Heerema, Extension pecan specialist at New Mexico State University, points out, mechanical pruning or hedging offers other benefits as well.

It can be a cost-efficient way to help even out production of pecan’s alternate bearing pattern, in which high yields one year are followed by a light crop the next.

“You see a much more severe drop in pecan production during an off year when trees are heavily-shaded or over-crowded,” he notes.

This is caused by lack of sunlight to fuel photosynthesis. Proper pruning lets more light penetrate the upper canopy to reach lower portions of the tree and keep the orchard illuminated and productive.

“A good, regular mechanical pruning program can increase production in an off-year,” Heerema says.

That’s not all. “Mechanical pruning also tends to improve nut quality, especially during the on season,” he adds.

Keep these tips in mind:

• Mechanical pruning should be done before the trees go out of production or have a chronic low nut quality problem.

• Maintain annual records to help determine when nut quantity and quality in pecan orchards are decreasing.

• Hedging is a temporary treatment and must be done again after three or four seasons, depending on the pruning system selected.

• Yield increases from hedging may be smaller with each successive hedging operation.