Western pecan growers gathered last week for their annual conference in Las Cruces and celebrated what most consider another successful year for pecan production in New Mexico, West Texas and Arizona.
New Mexico State University Extension pecan specialist Richard Heerema said New Mexico's vital pecan crop probably reached USDA’s fall 65-million pound estimate. Producers in Doña Ana County may have topped that number slightly, some estimating the annual crop will total near 67 million pounds once final numbers are in.
Phillip Arnold, president of the Western Pecan Growers Association Board, called 2014 a good year overall, citing continuing problems associated with a shortage of irrigation water that may have hampered production numbers slightly. But with little irrigation available from the Rio Grande River (Elephant Butte reservoir), he said producers aided pecan grove irrigation by pumping groundwater.
While input costs increase with groundwater pumping, without it pecan growers would not have achieved their production goals.
Growers attending the conference report they are pleased with harvest numbers considering this was supposed to be a light or off year in pecan's natural two-year cycle. According to Arnold, while this year's crop was light in Doña Ana County, it was an on year in the production cycle for eastern New Mexico and West Texas growers. On years and off years generally alternate, but pecan specialists say the gap between crop yield each year is closing as producers adopt new methods of pruning.
Good harvest weather
Another plus for Western pecan growers was good weather for harvest. Timing is critical for pecan harvest, and weather delays can adversely affect production numbers. But with good rains at critical nut development stage and drier conditions at harvest this year, growers were able to take advantage of ideal conditions during the second half of the growing season.
In addition to good weather, demand for quality pecans remained high throughout the season and wholesale prices were termed "fair" by most growers.
Also aiding Western pecan growers was a lighter-than-expected harvest in Georgia, traditionally the state with the largest annual pecan production. This year numerous pecan disease-related problems caused lower production numbers and that strengthened prices and demand for New Mexico pecans.
While in-shell pecans hovered around the $2 a pound mark most of the year, demand late in the season caused prices to jump, so, depending on when pecans were sold, some growers did better than others.
Arnold and other growers at the conference agreed that in spite of it being an off-year for pecans in and around the pecan farms in Doña Ana County, overall harvest numbers were better this year than last year, almost without exception.
Growers see challenges for 2015. Potential water shortage issues and pecan pests and diseases remain the usual suspects. But most say good fall and winter rains have helped soil moisture conditions slightly and if beneficial rains continue to fall at the right time as they did last year, it could be another good production year.
Working in their favor is that across much of the West it will be an on year again in the pecan growing cycle, and with the right weather conditions that could make for a good harvest, maybe even top last year's impressive production numbers.
Growers say the Western Pecan Growers’ Conference provided new insights into both marketing and new production techniques, which can be used to help further pecan production across the Western region.