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Pecan growers celebrate 40th annual conference March 5-7

LAS CRUCES - Pecan growers can learn about the latest technologies and methods to control pests, irrigate orchards and prune trees at the Western Pecan Growers Association Conference March 5-7 at the Hilton in Las Cruces.

Richard Heerema, a pecan specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, examines pecans at a commercial orchard in Mesilla Park. (NMSU photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

The 40th annual conference, organized by New Mexico State University, will include participants from all the major pecan-growing states, said Richard Heerema, a pecan specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

"The conference includes presentations by some of the best pecan researchers in the country," Heerema said. "Growers can learn a lot at the workshops and the trade show, and it's a great opportunity to network with people from other states."

This year's conference is buoyed by a bumper New Mexico pecan crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects 62 million pounds of pecans from the 2005/2006 harvest, or nearly 60 percent more than in 2004 and 7 million pounds more than the last high-production year in 2003, Heerema said. Pecan trees tend to alternate between high-production and low-production years, and this is an "on year" for pecans.

"This year is the highest production New Mexico's ever seen," Heerema said.

In fact, many believe the current harvest will yield even more than the USDA has forecast, said John White, an Extension horticulturist in Doņa Ana County.

"The USDA's projections are preliminary," White said. "When real production numbers come in, we think we'll be ranked as the highest producing state in the nation for the first time."

New Mexico has traditionally ranked as the nation's third-largest producer behind Georgia and Texas, but hurricanes and disease have hampered the pecan harvest in those states, White said.

Thanks to the high-quality of New Mexico pecans, growers here earn more than other states for their nuts, Heerema said. Based on USDA projections, this year's harvest is worth nearly $112 million, up from $89 million last year and just $70 million in 2003.

"Our pecans are much higher quality than anywhere else because the growing conditions are excellent," Heerema said. "We have just the right amount of cold in winter and heat in summer, and thanks to low humidity we don't have big disease problems like in Georgia and Texas. We also only grow improved varieties, which get higher prices at market."

At the conference, researchers and specialists from New Mexico and other states will talk about pest and weed control, salinity and water management, pecan marketing and promotion, waste disposal and pruning, Heerema said.

At the pruning workshop, researchers will show how to improve yields in low-production years, Heerema said. "We can't eliminate the alternating annual cycles, but through pruning we can stabilize year-to-year production somewhat," Heerema said.

The conference trade show will include 50 educational exhibits and supplier and manufacturer booths that feature machinery, tools, fertilizers and irrigation systems.

Participants can also take part in contests. The Western Pecan Growers Association Show, a nut sample competition, will take place March 5. Western and Wichita varieties, along with improved varieties, known hybrids, seedlings and natives will be judged, with a $100 prize awarded for best overall sample. A food fantasy contest, a competition for pecan-based goodies such as pies, cakes and candies, will also be held March 5.

For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, call Heerema at (505) 646-2921 or White at (505) 525-6649.