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New Mexico pecan growers size up ‘09 crop, profit prospects

Like just about any farmer anywhere at the start of a new season, David Salopek, president of the New Mexico Pecan Growers Associations, Las Cruces, N.M., is looking forward to a good crop this year. Here’s how he describes the current situation for himself and other Mesilla Valley pecan growers:

“The weather has cooperated,” he says. “We’ve finished our winter chores — pruning, ditch work and field preparations. Now, we’re getting fertilizers into the fields and anticipating a good bloom and a good crop. Everything looks to be right on track.

“The pecan business is a new world every year,” adds Les Fletcher, who has been growing pecans for most of the last five decades. “It looks like we’ll have sufficient water from the Rio Grande River watershed this year for our flood irrigated orchards.”

Although production from his 2008 off-year pecans, mostly Western Schley, was 45 percent below his usual on-year level, the price he received for last year’s crop, $2.50 a pound, was a dollar less than he earned for his previous off-year crop.

High input costs are also hammering profit prospects. “All the growers in this area have had a difficult time,” Fletchers says. “We’ve suffered tremendous inflationary pressures over the last four to five years. A lot of people have lost a lot of money.”

What are his plans for coping with high production expenses this year? “We’re doing what we need to do and have some affect on lowering costs,” he responds.

For example, in the past, he has applied generous rates of potassium fertilizer. However, to reduce his potassium bill, which has climbed 250 percent over the last two years, he’ll cut rates this year in half. Prices for nitrogen, which he applies at the rate of 250 to 300 active units per acre, and phosphorous have come down recently. “Still,” Fletcher says, “they are a lot higher than we’d like.

He’s encouraged by the trend in herbicide prices. “They’ve come down from the extraordinarily high levels of last year."

Because he’s noticing resistance to glyphosate in some areas of his orchard, Fletcher is using some pre-emerge alternatives, such as Goal and Goaltender. “They’re quite expensive, but we can’t tolerate Roundup-resistant weeds,’ he says. “So, we’ll spot treat with these alternatives, spraying the tree rows rather than the centers between the rows.

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