New Mexico pecan grower gears up for make-up crop

This is off-year for most New Mexico pecan growers — but not for Bill Kuykendall, manager of Chase Farms at Artesia, N.M. Unseasonably frigid weather last spring robbed him of the bigger on-year crop for his alternate-bearing trees. He anticipates re-couping those losses this year as his trees use the energy they saved in 2009.

Pecan operations for Chase Farms, based in New Mexico’s Pecos Valley, include 1,600 acres of trees in the Artesia area and another 1,000 acres of orchards near Roswell.

“Last year, a big late-season freeze came down this side of the state at the end of April,” he says. “We had temperatures of 19 degrees and 20 degrees for two days in a row.”

This year, again in late April, cold weather hit his orchards, but freeze damage was limited.

“The freeze was really spotty,” Kuykendall says. “You’d see a shoot that was fried by the freezing temps and just a foot away, on the same branch, would be a new, green one. I don’t remember anything happening like that before.”

Now, a month or so later, he likes what he’s seeing. “The bloom was on time, we had a good crop set and the trees look nice, strong and healthy. This should be a good, normal year for us.”

Chase Farms’ orchards are mostly Western Schley, along with a few Bradleys and Wichitas.

A small but increasing number of trees are the Pawnee variety Kuykendall began planting four years ago. At first, the small supply of Pawnee seedlings limited the number of Pawnees he could plant.

“We’ve been planting them as we’re able to get them,” Kuykendall says. “But now we have a more reliable supply and we’ll continue adding more each year for awhile.”

He expects the Pawnees to mature toward the end of September — about two months earlier than his Western Schley. That should reduce some of his production and marketing risks by lengthening the harvest period.

“The Pawnees will give us another option, so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. At least, that’s the theory — we haven’t had a chance to test it.”

That should happen in another two or three years, when the oldest Pawnees start producing a marketable crop.

The only difference Kuykendall has seen in production requirements between Pawnee and his other varieties is fertilization. The Pawnees tend to need a little more zinc than the Western Schleys. As with his other varieties, he meets that need with foliar applications of zinc sulfate.

“We’ve tried the chelated form of zinc, but we really struggled to get the numbers from our tissue tests where we wanted them,” he says. “So, we’ve gone back to using zinc sulfate.”

TAGS: Tree Nuts
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