As August got under way, prospects for California’s 2012 pecan crop were looking good, says Brian Blain, Blain Farms, Visalia, Calif. The operation, in Tulare and Kern Counties, includes 700 acres of producing pecan trees, mostly Wichita with Western Schley and Cheyenne pollinators.
“I haven’t seen a lot of variation from one area to the next in most orchards,” says Blain, who’s been growing pecans for almost four decades. “Most growers who get a lot of alternate bearing expect a bigger crop than in 2011, which was an off year for them.”
A delayed start this season put the trees a week or so behind normal, he says. Most of the state’s Pawnees were at about 50 percent embryo near the end of July, and as usual, nut fill on his Wichitas was about a week behind. Meanwhile, embryo development in pollinators lagged the Wichitas, also by a week.
Blain expects shells to harden in mid-August. Once the nuts reach the 40 percent to 50 percent embryo stage, he starts thinning the crop, a practice he started in 1995 to improve quality of current year nuts and increase size of the following year’s crop.
After estimating the number of nuts he needs to remove to achieve the desired crop load for the season, he does a test shake of a tree, then adjusts the shaker to leave the right amount of nuts on the tree.
It can be disconcerting the first time to see nuts falling on the ground, he admits, but the practice can pay off.
“It’s working really well for us,” Blain says. “Before we started doing this, we had very severe alternate bearing in our trees. The very next year we saw a reduction in the yield variation. Now, we’ve eliminated that problem and pretty much have the same level of production year after year.”
He expects to start harvesting at end of October or early November.
Although it’s still too early to get an idea of the quality of this year’s crop, he isn’t too concerned.
“Normally, we don’t’ see much variation in quality in our state,” says the director of the California Pecan Growers Association. “We tend to produce pretty high quality nuts every year.”
Blain attributes that to the absence of insect pests that feed on nuts and little of the adverse weather conditions that can affect nut quality in wetter, more humid pecan-producing areas of the country.
The only insect threat to the state’s pecan orchards is aphids; they are a problem for all growers, but pose more of risk for pollinator varieties than Wichita, Blain says. “We start seeing the aphids in early, June and watch for them up until harvest.
Blain usually treats trees with a systemic insecticide in late May or early June. If necessary, he’ll come back in late summer or early fall and treat his orchards on a limited basis with a foliar spray.
Treatments are based on the number of aphids on the leaves and the amount of honeydew they’re secreting. To extend control as late in the season as he can, Blain likes to delay the spring treatment as long as possible. This year, he says, he waited too long to start systemic treatments.
“The pressure in our orchards seems to be little worse this season than in the last few years. Aphids came on a little faster and heavier in the spring than we anticipated. It takes about two weeks after soil-applied systemics to start affecting them, and by then aphids had gotten out of control.”