NM pecan harvest shatters expectations

March 2, 2014 • State News

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico pecan growers reported this month that they are seeing their largest crop in years.

Farmers initially estimated the state’s winter harvest was 60 million pounds of in-shell pecans. But growers say a breakdown of how much has been purchased indicates a haul of 75 million pounds, the Las Cruces Sun-News said.

“Our production was big, extra-big,” said grower Dave Slagle, who farms in Leasburg north of Las Cruces.

Farmers and experts say that if the [auth] figure holds steady, the haul will be the state’s largest of the last 10 years.

According U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, New Mexico’s last big pecan crop was 74 million pounds in 2007.

Growers say the feat is surprising because last year was considered the worst river-water irrigation year in a century. Many credit increasing groundwater for helping.

Several farmers said trees that were planted in the past 15 years are now hitting their stride.

The more recently planted trees are starting to increase their production levels, said Phil Arnold, a Las Cruces pecan buyer and farmer. It takes typically about eight years for a tree’s production to reach a peak.

“I think a lot of that was due to the input that was from the younger orchards,” he said of the unexpected crop size. “We’re seeing the overall tonnage starting to increase a little bit.”

The Dona Ana County area also got a boost from heavier summer monsoon rains last year, Arnold added. Groundwater can cause salts to build up, affecting crop growth.

“That rainwater actually helped flush a lot of those salts out of the soil,” he said.

Dennis Lucero, who owns pecan orchards near Radium Springs, said local growers may have benefited from a poor crop in Georgia, which is seen as the top producer in the nation.

“Last year, we sold for $1.50 a pound,” he said. “This year, we got a $1.98 or $1.97.”

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