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Time to go nuts - annual pecan conference set for Las Cruces

The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service will host the 2009 Western Pecan Growers Conference and Trade Show at the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, March 1-3. As part of the conference, the popular Pecan Food Fantasy competition will take place March 1.

Richard Heerema, NMSU's extension pecan specialist at a pecan workshop in 2007 in Otero County. (NMSU photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

"This is the largest conference of its kind in the Western U.S. It's a wonderful opportunity for growers and others in the field of pecans to catch up and talk about the new year," said Richard Heerema, NMSU's extension pecan specialist. "It's also an opportunity for university scientists to talk about the industry."

Heerema said one of the themes of this year's conference is managing young trees. In recent years, many acres of new pecans have been planted in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas.

Rob Call, a University of Arizona extension agriculture agent will talk about training and pruning young trees. A grower's panel on training young trees will feature growers from New Mexico, Arizona and Texas and will be moderated by Mike Kilbey, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona.

A secondary theme of the conference will focus on the cost of producing pecans. Because of increased costs of fuel and other materials, last year's pecan crop was the most expensive ever to grow. Heerema said those increased costs are on a lot of grower's minds heading into a new season.

Bill McCloskey, a weed specialist from the University of Arizona, will talk about controlling weeds in orchards. Jamshid Ashigh, NMSU's extension weed specialist, will talk about herbicide resistance, a concern in some orchards because weeds become resistant when the same chemicals are used year after year to control their growth.

The Pecan Food Fantasy competition will precede the conference with cash prizes awarded to winners. Categories include appetizers, pies, cakes and unusual desserts. First place for best traditional pecan pie is $250 and smaller cash prizes will be given to other winners. Typically 200 to 300 people participate in the competition.

Pecan mini-grants are awarded to family and consumer science/culinary arts classes at area schools that participate in the food fantasy competition. In recent years, Canutillo High School in Texas and Las Cruces High School, Mayfield High School and Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces have entered.

"This is a great way to promote the industry while getting schools and the community involved," said Karim Martinez, interim program director and home economist for the Dona Ana County Cooperative Extension Service.

The Western Pecan Growers Association pecan show will also take place during the conference with a $100 prize given for the best pecan sample. Samples will be judged on various quality traits, including size, color and percent kernel.

For more information about the conference or to print a registration form, visit http://pecans.nmsu.edu.