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December snowstorm delayed New Mexico pecan harvest

The rare December snowstorm in southern New Mexico not only covered the area in five inches of snow but it also hindered this season?s pecan harvest. Fortunately for New Mexico producers, the unusual precipitation is not expected to have affected this year?s crop.


Man holds pecans in his hand in a pecan orchard.
Richard Heerema, extension pecan specialist at New Mexico State University, displays pecans at a Mesilla Valley orchard. This season?s pecan harvest is expected to have a $100 million to $150 million economic impact for New Mexico. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

New Mexico State University extension pecan specialist Richard Heerema said both the harvest season and growing season were wetter than recent years due to the El Niņo phenomenon.

?The precipitation has slowed down growers somewhat in their harvest,? Heerema said. ?In particular right after Christmas, there was a snowstorm and then followed by some rainstorms, and that created very wet orchard conditions. It made it impossible for producers to take their harvest equipment into their orchards without creating problems in the orchard floor as well as possibly getting equipment stuck in the mud.

?Growers welcome precipitation in the region, but at the same time it does make things a bit frustrating for harvest.?

Despite the harvest being interrupted by more than a week, the sunny and dry conditions in mid- and late January helped growers get back on track. This year?s harvest concluded at the end of January. Mother Nature also had an effect on the growing season for producers.

?A few spotty hailstorms came through the Mesilla Valley and several orchards were hit, doing damage to the crop,? Heerema said. ?Overall, it was a very smooth growing season. The crop was strong in many orchards in the area.?

Heerema said growers are pleased with the levels of crop this year and the number of pounds per acre is very good in many parts of the state.

Typically, New Mexico produces 60 to 70 million pounds of in-shell pecans, which accounts for about 25 percent of the country?s pecans annually. In the last three years, New Mexico has produced an average of 68 million pounds of pecans.

?The pecan industry in New Mexico is the third-largest state pecan industry in the United States following Georgia and Texas,? Heerema said.

?The past several years, New Mexico has produced more pecans than Texas, even though Texas has far more acres than New Mexico. New Mexico pecans have surpassed Texas the past few years, and we expect that to happen again this year.

?The overall dollar value of pecans in the state of New Mexico typically falls somewhere between $100 million and $150 million.?

From 2012 to 2014, the value of pecans produced in New Mexico averaged nearly $130 million.

In New Mexico, the vast majority of the pecan industry is concentrated in the southern counties. The Mesilla Valley in Doņa Ana County is home to 70 percent of the pecan industry in the state, while the Pecos River Valley in Chaves and Eddy Counties ranks second in acreage with 20 percent.

Even though pecans are not a native crop to New Mexico, the nut has thrived in the state for more than 100 years. In 1913, Fabian Garcia planted some of the New Mexico?s first pecan trees in the Mesilla Valley. More than 100 years later, a number of the original trees are still standing at NMSU?s Fabian Garcia Horticulture Science Center in Las Cruces.

In the 1930s, commercial planting of pecans started in the state when Deane Stahmann planted 4,000 acres along the Rio Grande River just a few miles from Garcia?s initial crop.