Last year, Buddy Achen’s pecan orchards yielded averaged a respectable 2,700 pounds per acre, and from what he’s been seeing in his fields so far this year, he’s encouraged that his 2010 crop could be another good one, considering this is an off-year for the alternate-bearing trees.

This follows what he describes as a “pretty decent set” this year. His Triple A Farms has 600 acres of pecans, including a new orchard he planted last year. The trees are mostly Western Schley, with some Wichita and Bradley varieties for pollinators.

“The trees are in great shape right now,” he says. “They’re vibrant and healthy, with lush green leaves and new growth. There’s definitely a good crop of nuts on them now. I hope they can make 2,000 pounds per acre, which would be good for an off year.”

His biggest challenge, says Achen, is producing good quality nuts consistently.

“To do that, we have to stay on top of everything — pruning, fertilization, insect and disease control and irrigation management — all season long.”

Take winter pruning, for example. His goal is to try balancing the annual crop load to minimize differences in production between on and off years. That means pruning trees so they will make the best use of fertilizer and water. “We want minimal stress on the trees,” he says.

Achen uses both liquid and dry fertilizers, depending on soil types. He feeds trees 65 units of nitrogen per application. Around the end of March or first of April, he gives younger trees as much as 150 units of phosphorus to encourage root growth, reducing rates to around 50 to 75 units of phosphorus for older trees.

Last year, Achen’s management practices enabled him to harvest nuts ranging in quality from 55 percent to 60 percent.

His main insect concern is the pecan nut casebearer. “We call it the holiday bug, because it comes around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.”

Three weeks before the expected arrival of the insect, he sets traps and begins monitoring. “This year, trapping for Memorial Day was really spotty,” Achen says. “We had some hot spots, but in a lot of places we didn’t have to spray.”