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California pecan growers eye record

The Marines are always looking for a few more good men, and the California Pecan Growers Association also is looking for a few good almond, pistachio or walnut growers who would like to try their hand at producing America's most widely recognized tree nut, pecans.

Pecans are not a new crop in California. There are about 2,500 acres of pecan orchards in the state, mostly in the Visalia, Calif., area and in the Sacramento Valley. Acreage has not changed in the past decade because until now pecans could not compete economically with other California tree nut crops.

While California produces very good quality improved pecans, yields have not been competitive with other tree nuts, especially walnuts which are typically planted on the same type of soils as pecans.

However, research work by the University of California and the small grower organization has resulted in management techniques that dramatically increase yields and the association wants to tell growers about it June 23-24 in Visalia, Calif.

The meeting will start on Wednesday, June 23 with dinner and presentations, and continue on Thursday morning with field tours of grower fields. There will be a charge for the dinner meeting to be held at the Lampliter Inn, in Visalia.

This meeting is being organized primarily for growers who are not now growing pecans. In the last two years, pecans have equaled or exceeded the profitability of growing walnuts in the same area due to higher yields from hedging and better aphid control. Average yields in the state have jumped from less than 1,000 pounds per acre to around 1,500 pounds.

Bruce Wood, research leader of the ARS Fruit and Tree-Nut Research Lab in Byron, Ga., will discuss hedging (or mechanical pruning) techniques used internationally in pecans. California pecan growers will relate their experiences in a panel discussion. Other featured discussions include aphid control, and updates on nursery trees, marketing, and cost of production studies.

Research by retired UC farm advisor Steve Sibbett that late season aphid honeydew deposits were not hurting nut quality, but was reducing yields of a crop harvested in late fall by reducing photosynthesis is one reason for the yield breakthrough. Also, mechanical hedging to open up trees to get more sunlight into the orchard improved yields.

California pecan growers generally have less input than producers elsewhere. They treat only for zinc deficiency and aphids, compared to numerous insect and disease problems found in orchards of the southeastern states. Equipment used for almonds and walnuts also can be used to farm and harvest pecans.

Pecans show higher growth and yields on heavier California soils than other nut crops, which opens up new ground for orchard production.

For more information on this meeting such as registration, directions, meeting agenda and hotel arrangements, contact: Brian Blain, 559/732-5365 fax 559/732-4830 P.O. Box 507, Visalia. CA 93279; Sacramento Valley grower Garry Vance at 530/824-3774 or Mark Freeman (UCCE Farm Advisor, Fresno County) at 559/456-7265.

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