Pecans, like people, are moving to the Southwest. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, New Mexico and Arizona accounted for a mere 4 percent of U.S. pecan production in the mid 1970s. As a result of steady growth in production, the percentage has blossomed to more than 28 percent.

With the expanded production has come a need for expanded research. And New Mexico State University, whose first experimental orchard dates back almost 100 years, is poised to expand significantly its already robust pecan research program, according to Richard Heerema, NMSU Extension pecan specialist.

NMSU has recently planted nearly 2,000 new pecan saplings, donated in 2011 by Linwood Nursery in La Grange, Calif. With extensive new orchards in three New Mexico growing areas, Heerema feels that NMSU is on its way to becoming a national leader in pecan research.

This is Linwood's second major donation of pecan saplings to NMSU in as many years; they provided 1,200 trees in early 2010. Planted at three of the university's science centers around the state, that first set of trees allowed NMSU to triple its pecan research acreage. This latest gift more than doubles the 2010 total.

NMSU now has more than 60 acres planted at the Leyendecker Plant Science Center south of Las Cruces, the Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas south of Albuquerque and the Agricultural Science Center at Artesia in the Pecos Valley.

"NMSU's research orchards represent the largest of their kind for the arid southwestern states, where much of the nation's pecan industry growth has been occurring and where pecan producers face unique challenges," Heerema said.

The monetary value of the 2011 Linwood donation is in excess of $40,000, bringing their total support of NMSU's pecan research enterprise to nearly $65,000.

Linwood Nursery, which deals exclusively in pecans, became familiar with NMSU's pecan research program through participation in the annual Western Pecan Growers Association conference, held in Las Cruces and co-sponsored by NMSU. A personal connection also helped spark the support: Linwood owner Jason Hall reports that Joel Hall - father, retired partner and current consultant in the nursery - attended NMSU between 1961 and 1963.

"He gets a real kick out of seeing this project come together at his old stomping grounds," the younger Hall said.

Hall recognizes the importance of research on nut crops and feels that pecan research needs to catch up with what has been done on other nuts. He wants NMSU to play a large part in accomplishing that.

"Over the course of my 23 years in the nursery business, I have seen just how important research and development have been to the advancement of crops like almonds and walnuts in California," he said. "These two crops alone have benefited immensely through rootstock and variety trials as well as cultural practice research."

Linwood has a history of working with various universities on pecan research involving such issues as fertilizer, bud break and cold tolerance, according to Hall. After Linwood's regional field representative Karlene Hanf talked to NMSU's Heerema at a WPGA conference about the need for an expanded research orchard at NMSU, Hall determined to supply the trees.

Heerema foresees the new pecan acreage being incorporated into research in many disciplines.