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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Crunch Time: New Mexico Pecan Crop Down Sharply

LAS CRUCES - New Mexico's high-velocity pecan industry is on the verge of hitting a major speed bump, as forecasts for the multimillion dollar crop are near half of last year's record breaking pace.

John White, Dona Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, holds pecans that are just starting to fall from their shucks. New Mexico's harvest, which should be near 36 million pounds, is down sharply from last year's record crop, but prices will likely be better. (11/11/2002) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"In terms of southern New Mexico, especially Doņa Ana County, yields are off 40 to 50 percent," said John White, Doņa Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

The decline isn't caused by any pest or disease, though. It's just a natural reaction of the trees to take a breather after a jumbo harvest. "Pecans are alternate bearing," White explained. "In other words, they'll have a good year and have a big production drop the next."

According to the New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Service, the forecast for the 2002 pecan crop in New Mexico is 36 million pounds, about 24 million pounds less than last year's record crop. The value of the state's pecan crop was $38.4 million in 2001, and $48 million in 2000. Nationally, New Mexico ranks third in the pecan production, behind Texas and Georgia.

Overall, pecans prices this year are better than last year's, said Esteban Herrera, an emeritus horticulturist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Things will be even rosier for those who harvest early and have good quality," he said.

"We'll be 20 to 30 cents a pound better than last year," said David Salopek, who directs operations at a 1,000-acre pecan orchard and leads Roadrunner Pecans, a Las Cruces-based retail pecan business. Hurricane-related storm damage and heavy rains have caused some problems with the current crop and may decrease supplies from Texas to Georgia.

Still, more than 150 million pounds of unsold pecans from last year's crop remain in cold storage, White said. In addition, Mexico is expected to bring another 40 million pounds to market this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's national forecast for pecan production is 202 million pounds.

"That's almost 400 million pounds, while annual pecan consumption is only about 350 million," White said. "That leaves a lot of pecans sitting out there in limbo, and that could create some market problems."

New Mexico pecan growers are on the cusp of harvest. In Doņa Ana County the heavy, green shucks of the Western Schley, one of the most popular pecan varieties, are starting to split and pecans are starting to fall. The primary harvest in this high-production county will occur after the first freeze, which is expected toward the end of the month.

"The El Paso-Doņa Ana County corridor has one of the largest, most intensely managed pecan crops in the world," White said. "It's a high value-added area with several million pounds of pecans coming out and lots of processing plants. There's a big impact."

One effect of this year's pecan bounty is the likely reincarnation of the pecan market order, White added. A market order is a voluntary or mandatory fee growers pay to fund market promotion and research.

Any decision to create a pecan market order would be directed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and voted on by producers themselves. Several attempts in the 1990s failed to pass. Another competitive factor is the rise of other nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts and pistachios, several of which have market orders to promote consumption, he said.