New Mexico pecan grower Mike Prude’s hopes for at least a decent off-year crop this season have been literally nipped in the bud.
A series of winter-like cold spells interrupted by several brief heat spikes this spring left many tree blocks looking far more wood brown than leaf green by mid-May. In some fields, the 2013 season is all but over. In others it never really began.
As operations manager for Seven Rivers, Inc., Carlsbad, N.M., Prude looks after 850 acres of flood-irrigated pecan trees.
While not all that frequent, his orchards can experience freezing weather in April.
“Generally, we have one or two close calls and then temperatures warm up,” Prude says. “But, I don’t ever remember April frosts of this severity, when the trees still hadn’t recovered by the middle of May. Right now, they are struggling.”
His season this year started with bud break on April 5 – 10 days later than last year but within the time frame that his pecan trees usually begin budding out. Two days after that, early morning temperatures dropped to 30 degrees, where they lingered for several hours. Between then and May 3, Prude recorded five more occasions where temperatures had fallen to between 26 and 30 degrees, sometimes for as long as four to five hours. In between several of these sub-freezing weather events, temperatures sometimes soared to as high as 90 and 94 degrees, even reaching 102 degrees on the first day of May. Two days later, his thermometer was reading 72 degrees lower.
“Those extreme temperatures were very hard on the trees and came at the most critical stage of tree growth,” Prude says. The job of trying to protect them from frost by keeping the soil wet was absolutely atrocious. We were watering the fields as hard as we could.”
Even then, he estimates tree injury from the freezing weather will cut his yields this year from 50 percent to 90 percent of normal, depending on the ranch.
The worst frost damage occurred along the field borders with his Wichita’s suffering more losses than his Western Schley, he reports.
“In some cases there was no rhyme or reason as to which trees suffered frost injury.” Prude says. “For example, we found groups of trees where all but just one or two were damaged,” Prude says.
Following flowering and pollination that start near the end of April, Prude’s trees that suffering little or no frost damage were setting nuts by the middle of May. He will be managing these trees as usual this season. That includes spoon-feeding 50 units per acre of nitrogen as urea monthly throughout the growing season and making a total of half a dozen or so foliar applications of zinc, manganese and iron during the year.
With no prospects of harvesting a crop from his frost-damaged trees, Prude’s goal is simply to keep them healthy this season. “All we doing now is preparing them for next year,” Prude says. “We won’t be feeding them as much as we would otherwise.”
Still, he sees at least one positive outcome of a much-shortened harvest this time around. As with many other New Mexico pecan growers, Prude’s harvest usually begins the day after Thanksgiving and often runs past New Year’s Day.
“I might actually get to open Christmas presents on Christmas Day,” he says.
This report is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Western Farm Press during the growing season. This edition was sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection. If you would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the Western Farm Press home page and sign up for it and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.
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