With the end of summer and the arrival of cooler weather, many are already planning those special and traditional meals around the table with family and friends and enjoying the fruits of nature, including dishes and desserts based upon or include one of America's favorite nuts, the pecan.
Native to Texas and many other states, pecans have been extensively used in kitchens and enjoyed in households across the nation, not just during the holidays, but year round. But nut specialists at the federal and state level have been warning both commercial growers and more recently residents with pecan trees that those wonderful nuts are at serious risk from a deadly insect, Curculio caryae, better known as the pecan weevil.
The threat posed by the pecan weevil is serious says Bill Ree, Texas Statewide Integrated Pest Management Specialist at Texas A&M in Bryan.
In Texas, 249 of the state's 254 counties are under quarantine as a result of the pecan weevil. Only five counties in extreme West Texas have escaped the quarantine — so far. But farther west, in southeastern and south central New Mexico, pecan weevils have been discovered on pecan trees at residential locations, and state and federal officials are warning that the destructive weevil could migrate even farther westward.
PEST IN NEW PLACES
"This is not a new pest, but what is new is that it’s being sighted in areas where it’s never been found,” Ree reported recently.
He warned that risks associated with the pecan weevil could be as serious as those caused by the dreaded casebearer, which has caused extensive damage to the Texas pecan industry in recent years. While the casebearer causes its greatest damage in the early season, the pecan weevil threatens pecans right up to the harvest.
So far, 130 counties in Texas have experienced outbreaks of pecan weevils, and in spite of a quarantine on the movement of pecans in the shell and shelled pecans that contains pieces of shell, the weevil continues to spread west "at an alarming rate."
In late 2016 and January 2017, pecan weevils were confirmed in several residential locations in southeastern and eastern New Mexico, raising alarms that the tiny insect continues to pose a real danger to New Mexico's lucrative and profitable commercial pecan industry as well.
New Mexico's Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University Extension Service officials have been working with commercial growers for several years in anticipation of the arrival of the pecan weevil. Over the past 10 years, both organizations have cooperated on annual surveys and outreach programs as part of an early detection and eradication approach to prevent pecan weevils becoming established in the state.
But more recent concerns have been focused on pecan trees located in residential areas in a number of New Mexico cities. In January this year, a quarantine was issued to restrict movement of pecans produced within the city limits of Clovis, Roswell, and Lovington. The quarantine was extended and expanded when pecan weevils were discovered on residential pecan trees in other southern New Mexico cities. A series of quarantines included pecans produced in Eddy, Lea, Chaves and Curry counties.
More recently, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture has warned commercial growers of a potential permanent quarantine that would limit movement of shelled pecans outside of quarantined areas in an effort to limit the spread of the weevils into other commercial production areas. A heavy outbreak of weevils in the pecan rich commercial areas could put the $180 million pecan industry at great risk.
State sponsored eradication efforts have been ongoing at all infected locations, and commercial growers have been scouting regularly and treating as required to aid in the eradication process. Rules concerning the movement of pecans include requiring certificates before movement and specific methods of processing and packaging pecans before producers and suppliers can ship.
To ship to destinations farther west, New Mexico growers will incur added costs to meet those shipping requirements. Dean Calvani, who operates one of Eddy County’s largest pecan operations, reported he would be required to invest in equipment redesign at his plant and would also need to purchase new vehicles in which he could completely cover and contain pecan shipments, as required by those rules, a significant investment.
He says those requirements were implemented just a month before harvest season began, a requirement that threatens his marketing ability at a critical time and one that may be too burdensome at this point in the season, especially with the holiday pecan season looming. As a result, he says he is worried about the implications of how this will affect his pecan year. He said he also finds the new rules ironic, considering he has never found a single weevil in the 500 acres he farms. He now faces the possibility that he can only ship pecans eastward, though shipping west would meet the demand for his current crop of quality pecans.
Other commercial growers have expressed similar concern that the timing of the new rules, saying they will make it much more difficult and likely less profitable, threatening their very livelihoods in the year to come.
But most, including Calvani, say they understand NMDA is trying to get control of an explosive problem. Many producers say they were glad they had the opportunity to provide input to NMDA before the quarantine went into effect, and most agree that in the long run gaining control of the pecan weevil problem will benefit all growers in the state.
But like their counterparts in Texas, the possibility of a permanent quarantine also means that smaller producers are at risk of not surviving costly restrictions, and say they are extremely worried about this year's bottom line.