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New Mexico State University

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Soaked Orchards Delay Pecan Harvest

LAS CRUCES - Weeks of drizzling rain and muddy orchards will push the state's multimillion dollar pecan harvest past Christmas - a rare occurrence, reports a New Mexico State University horticulturist.

Pecans wait to be harvested at New Mexico State University's Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center near Las Cruces. The state's pecan harvest could be pushed past Christmas thanks to rains that have delayed growers from getting into their soaked orchards, says John White, Doņa Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. (11/30/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

In a normal year, the commercial harvest would have been well under way by Thanksgiving and largely wrapped up by mid-December.

"We're weeks behind," said John White, Doņa Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "We just can't get in the field to get anything started. Usually producers start harvesting in October and would be largely finished by now."

Doņa Ana County's 25,000 acres of pecan trees typically produce about 80 percent of the state's crop.

Total pecan production for the entire state will be down this year because it's a so-called off season. According to the New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Service, pecan production will be 37 million pounds, down from 2003 by 18 million pounds, which is normal due to the alternate bearing cycle of the trees.

"In other words, we'll have a moderate crop with good quality," White said.

This year's pounding series of hurricanes caused extensive damage, battering pecan crops from Florida to Alabama, White said. The resulting nut shortage in Southeastern states, along with delayed harvests and a shrinking supply of pecans in cold storage from previous years, will likely result in good demand and stronger prices for New Mexico producers, he said. It also means a slight increase in retail prices.

New Mexico produces up to $40 million worth of pecans in high-yielding years, and accounts for about 50 percent of Southwest production and 11 percent of the U.S. crop.

The top five states in total pecan production are normally Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana, respectively. But Georgia pecan producers suffered major losses this year, White said. As much as 40 percent of the crop in some areas was lost due to hurricanes.