With their shells hardening in the first part of August and nut sizing completed, the kernels inside the nuts hanging in the pecan trees of New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley are now filling. The process will continue probably through the end of October.
At this point, the orchards of the larger growers, those with deep wells and the pumping capacity to deal with this year’s one and only delivery of surface water – enough for one irrigation – are in good shape, reports Jeff Anderson, New Mexico State University Extension Agent for Doña Ana County. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District released water that water to growers with water rights starting June 1 and continuing until the end of the month.
“For the most part, pecan growers seem to be pleased with where the crop is heading this year,” he says. “I haven’t heard of any insect problems and, as usual, there have been no disease concerns.”
But for many of the smaller growers in this area of prolonged drought it’s a much different story. Small growers generally have no more than about 20 acres of pecans. In the past, with surface water more plentiful, they’ve been able to get by with their smaller pumps and shallower wells.
“This year, they’re really struggling to provide water to their trees,” Anderson said. “With their shallow wells they’re bringing up excess salts, but, can’t pump enough water to leach out those salts. As a result their soils are drying out, the leaves are burning up and that’s preventing the kernels from filling properly. With everyone around them pumping, the water table keeps dropping and some growers end up just pumping air.”
New Mexico growers may be harvesting a smaller crop this year than in 2012. Estimates of the 2013 crop size by several industry observers range from 52 to 55 million pounds (in-shell). That compares to last year’s 65-million-pound crop, as reported by the USDA.
In 2012, Texas growers produced 55 million pounds of pecans. This year, some are forecasting the crop to be no larger than about 30 to 32 million pounds.
A significant drop is production is also expected in Georgia, the largest U.S. pecan producing state, where scab has taken a toll on this year’s crop. Georgia’s expected yield should be between 70 and 85 million pounds for this year’s crop, with expectations closer to the low end.