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NMSU workshop brings pecan growers together in booming market

ALAMOGORDO - With pecan production in Otero County almost doubling in recent years, growers are finding that pecans are big business, with almost $4 million in annual cash receipts, according to the latest statistics. As the industry grows, producers are considering ways to streamline their operations and work more closely together by joining a statewide pecan association or forming a county-level cooperative to save money on expenses like fertilizer and herbicide.

New Mexico State University's John White, right, program director for the Dona Ana County Extension office, discusses pruning pecan trees during a workshop in April organized by Richard Ng, left, Otero County Extension agriculture agent. (NMSU Agricultural Communications photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

At a workshop arranged by New Mexico State University's Otero County Cooperative Extension Service Office in April, more than 50 growers from around the county discussed the idea of a cooperative. They also learned and shared ideas about the care of their orchards, from weed and pest control to proper pruning methods.

The workshop was held in Rick Carrier's well-kept, 230-tree orchard, south of Alamogordo. Presentations were made by NMSU/New Mexico Department of Agriculture economic entomologist Brad Lewis; Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Dan Abercrombie; Dona Ana County Extension Service program director John White; Extension pecan specialist Richard Heerema; NMDA assistant bureau chief for entomology and nursery industries Gregory Watson; and NMDA Pesticide Bureau pesticide inspector Cecilia Owen.

Otero County Extension agriculture agent Richard Ng said he was approached by Bill Guthrie, NMDA pecan inspector, about conducting a workshop due to significant interest from growers.

"Conducting this workshop will help spread the knowledge about growing pecans," Ng said. "It also is a way to help enlist pecan growers here in Otero County to join the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association. Joining the association will help growers here in Otero County be kept in the loop when it comes to market prices, information on latest research, fertilizer prices, and so on and so forth."

Producers attending the workshop ranged from people still considering starting an orchard and hobbyists with a few trees to commercial operations with thousands of trees.

Otero County is the fourth-largest producer of pecans in New Mexico, where production leads the nation. Statewide, pecan production topped $110 million in 2005, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's New Mexico Agricultural Statistics. The value of the pecan harvest in Otero County increased from about $2 million in 2003 to about $3.9 million in 2005. Dona Ana County led the state in pecan production in 2005, at $82 million, followed by Eddy County, $10.7 million, and Chaves County, $8.2 million.

Carrier planned to contact those who attended the workshop to explore the idea of starting an Otero County cooperative. Most of those at the workshop seemed to agree that getting together to save on expenses by buying in bulk would be a benefit. They were cautioned, though, about potential difficulties in trying to work as a group when it comes to marketing and pricing.

Ng said he'd like to get the group together again for additional workshops.

"This will be the starting point for a lot of new growers to excel and bring their pecan orchard to the next level by communicating and helping each other out," Ng said. "This will initiate a pecan group meeting which is vital in creating a co-op. The economic impact for this area from the pecan industry will be greatly enhanced with growers becoming more competitive and knowledgeable in pecan growing with workshops conducted yearly and meetings held by pecan growers here in the Extension office to address pecan issues."

The pecan workshop is part of NMSU's continuing outreach efforts to help educate and improve the lives of people in New Mexico.