Contrary to most pecan growers in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley, this is an off-year for Greg Daviet’s 250 acres of trees. He is operations manager for Dixie Ranch, near Las Cruces, which his great-grandfather started in 1905.

A late-May nut count indicates his 2013 crop is likely to be average in size for an off-year crop. Average is about 1,400 pounds per acre. “We’re not expecting anything out of the ordinary,” he says.

That’s in marked contrast to last year when yields of nearly 3,200 pounds per acre topped the ranch’s previous best on-year crop by a long shot. “We've seen a steady increase in our yields over the past decade, but last year really stood out”, Daviet notes. His previous on-year crop produced 2,500 pounds per acre.

“I wish I could explain last year’s yields,” he says. “I could point to at least 10 things we do differently now. But it’s hard to say exactly what accounted for last year’s record production, other than that we’re always working to improve production.”

The oldest pecan trees on the ranch were planted by his grandmother in 1965. The youngest trees are almost 40 years old. About 80 percent are Western Schley. The rest are divided equally between Barton and Bradley. All are planted on 40-by-40 foot spacing.

Following unseasonably cool weather early this year, Daviet’s trees began leafing out April 10. The crop has remained about a week to 10 days behind the usual pace of maturity through May. However, above normal temperatures during the last half of May could allow the crop to catch up, he notes.

His orchards appear to have escaped the worst of the sub-freezing temperatures during bloom that devastated crop prospects this year for other New Mexico pecan growers.

“At the time, I didn’t see any frost damage in our blocks,” Daviet says. “But, now I’m seeing some symptoms of injury that could be related to the freeze.”

One of his major insect threats — the pecan nut casebearer — has shown up in greater numbers this season that he’s seen in a long time. Last month was the first time in the past five or six years that he’s had to apply a pesticide to control them this early.

For good measure, he included a systemic in that treatment to target yellow pecan aphid, another of his perennial pests. His main defense against this threat for the past two decades is the ladybug. He puts them out in his orchards weekly, beginning the last week of May, for about six weeks or until the aphids die out.