Based on the rate at which their soils were warming up and how the buds looked in the second week of March, pecan growers in New Mexico’s Pecos Valley may see bud break a little earlier than usual. Typically, that occurs around the last week of March of the first week of April.
Woods Houghton, New Mexico State University Ag Extension Agent for Eddy County, measured a soil temperature of 58 degrees on March 12. That same day he also saw buds starting to swell.
“If the trees have the moisture they need, they could bud out about four to six days earlier than normal,” he says.
Early bud opening would follow an early end to the 2012 harvest. Aided by unseasonably dry weather, most growers in the county finished shaking their trees in mid-December.
Yields last year were down from 2011 levels due to dry, hot weather. So was the quality of the nuts. “The nuts weren’t filled out as well as growers would like,” Houghton says.
Since then, he reports, the county’s 14 commercial pecan growers have planted about 800 acres of new pecan trees. To make room for maturing trees in some orchards, growers also have been transplanting trees this winter to open up the original 30-by-30-foot tee spacing, common in this area, to 30-by-60 feet.
Local interest in one county grower’s efforts to improve pollination in his orchards is increasing, Houghton says. This grower collects pollen, which he freezes for use the following spring.
Strong winds at bloom time can blow pollen past the flowers, leaving some unfertilized. To counter that, the grower blows the pollen onto the trees on calm mornings when there’s some dew to help hold the pollen on the flowers. “He gets a nice nut set that way,” Houghton says. “Last year proved this practice was worth the effort.”
Adequate supplies of water for irrigation will be a big issue in the minds of Eddy County growers this season, he notes. Many have wells to supplement the surface water they receive. But, as the drought continues, allotments of water from the Pecos River are shrinking. That is increasing the importance of summer monsoons. Traditionally, July and August rains coincide with nut fill and the peak in seasonal tree water use. “Growers are really dependent on that rainfall to help meet this peak in water demand,” Houghton says.
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