Jay Glover has been growing pecans for the past 40 years near Tularosa, N.M., with 280 acres of groves. There are 20 varieties altogether, but Western Schley is the predominate one.
Two years ago, Glover lost 40 percent of his expected production when an early spring hailstorm knocked nuts off of the trees. It could have been worse — he lost only the nuts. “Some of my neighbors experienced severe structural damage to trees and had to cut branches back past the bark damage by removing any two-year old or younger growth,” he says. “Thank God for crop insurance.” That’s n the only time, Glover adds, that he’s filed such a claim.
Last year, his trees rebounded. “It was the biggest crop ever for us — 35 percent over our historical best.’
That is a big increase, but he didn’t suffer any loss of quality, which he attributes to hedging of mature trees.
Hedging has been a major change in orchard management by pecan growers in his area over the past decade. It decreases shading, removes bad limb angles and dead limbs, and eliminates lower branches to accommodate orchard equipment. Glover started hedging mature trees eight years ago.
This has also mitigated the alternate bearing tendency of his trees. Before hedging, on one 22-acre block, he produced 60,000 pounds of nuts during one year. The next year, production dropped to just 18,000 pounds. Since then, with annual hedging, production from year to year on this same plot has been much more consistent, varying between a total of 55,000 pounds and 45,000 pounds.
Hedging also helps maintain nut quality by promoting new tree growth. “By reducing size of the tree canopy, hedging reduces the amount of wood and leaves the tree has to support, leaving more energy to produce better nuts,” Glover says.
The year he started hedging, he cut back his oldest trees hard; some of them were planted in the 1930s on 60 x 60-foot spacing. Some of them were touching overhead. He cut them back to no more than 15 feet from the trunk. Production suffered the first year, but recovered fully within about two years.
He hedges each side of the trees on a four-year cycle, pruning every other row in one direction each year.
“The first year, we remove 6-inch diameter branches to open up the canopy and stimulate new growth. When we hedge that side of the tree again, we cut the ends of those branches at the knuckle where the growth started four years earlier.
Initially, Glover’s crew chipped the prunings and disked the material into the soil at a depth of about 2 to 3 inches to add organic matter. Last year, he hired a custom operator to do the work, using a self-propelled shredder. “Custom shredding costs me less than having my guys using a chipper,” he says, “and the shredder spreads the material more evenly over the orchard floor.”