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Mesilla Valley pecan grower nurtures crop momentumMesilla Valley pecan grower nurtures crop momentum

Dave Slagle’s 320 acres of pecan trees apparently like the cards they’ve been dealt this year. He certainly does.

Greg Northcutt

June 19, 2013

5 Min Read

Dave Slagle’s 320 acres of pecan trees in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley apparently like the cards they’ve been dealt this year. He certainly does.

They escaped the April frost that hit some of the pecan orchards farther south in Dona Ana County. In fact, one reason his trees are doing well this year may be that they’ve finally recovered from the stress of sub-zero temperatures that killed pecan trees throughout much of the valley in February 2011.

Canopies continued to flourish through the first half of June.

“They kept getting fuller and fuller,” he says. “Based on how the clusters are starting to form, it looks like we’ll have a really good crop. The trees just keep looking better. They do that when they’re happy. And, they’re particularly happy this year. This year, I’ll just be trying keep the trees from quitting on us.”

Slagle will be drawing on four decades of experience growing pecans. Slagle took over the operation, Los Puentes Farms, Inc., in 1970 from his father-in-law.

Today, the flood-irrigated orchards north of Las Cruces include Western Schley with Wichita pollinators. The youngest trees are 25-years-old. All are planted on 30 x 30-foot spacing. At one time, Slagle removed trees in several blocks, resulting in a 42.5 x 42.5-foot diagonal spacing.

Last year’s crop — 1,550 pounds per acre with a 58-percent meat count — was about average for yield and quality.“With the very dry weather, it wasn’t a spectacular crop,” Slagle says. “In years of good monsoons to help during nut fill, we can end up with some terrific production and quality.”

Early on, he expected this to be an off-year for his crop. Now, he’s not so sure.

“The trees look like it’s an on-year.” Slagle says. “But, 2012 was an on-year. Over the past several seasons, the difference in production between the on and off years is getting confused and the crop has become more even from one season to the next.”

He attributes much of that to his pruning practices. Slagle tries to prune each tree at least once every four years.

“I like to base pruning on where a block trees is in terms of production,” he explains. “On some lighter soils where the trees don’t grow real fast after pruning, I may wait six years before I cut them again,”

More often than not, after hedging and topping every other row in a block one year, Slagle will come back two years later and prune the remaining rows. This helps maintain at least production in a blocks from one season to the next.

“I’ve found that individual trees react to what others in the neighborhood are doing,” he says. “When I cut every other row, the unpruned trees seem to perk up, and we get our best production. That way, we don’t cut away all our production, and we enhance yields on the trees that we leave untouched.”

Pest problems

The black-margined aphid, part of the yellow aphid complex, is one of Slagle’s two major insect threats. He used to ignore the large amounts of honeydew on leaves. However, the sooty mold that grows on the honeydew can reduce photosynthetic efficiency. A decade ago, he began spraying an insecticide to reduce the insect’s pressure. Since then, his nut production has increased significantly, he reports.

Slagle’s method of managing his other insect pest, the black aphid, varies. For the last several years he sprayed the trees with an insecticide. This year, he soil applied it as a systemic to coincide with his first irrigation.  “By changing the treatment this way I’m trying to keep the aphids guessing a bit to get better control,” he says.

To nourish his trees, Slagle includes a dose of UAN 32, drilled into the soil, along with a broadcast application of urea to start the season. This year, for the first time, he plans to use only liquid UAN solution for the rest of his nitrogen treatments this season. He’ll apply a total of 220 units per acre.

“It takes longer to drill in the UAN, but I think it does a better job than the urea,” he says.

He supplements his nitrogen fertilization with a spray of zinc and other micronutrients.

For the third straight year, spring winds have been unusually strong, blowing at speeds of about 30 to 45 miles per hour, gusting even higher.

“We’ve already had two weeks of days close to, or above, 100 degrees,” Slagle says. “When you add in the drying effects of wind, we can be maxed out on irrigation. We can hardly put on enough water to keep up with the trees’ demands.”

Slagle’s surface water for his trees comes from the nearby Rio Grande River and is provided by the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which maintains several reservoirs.

“Those reservoirs are just about empty,” he says. “This year we will get just one irrigation with the river water.” He’ll pump the rest.

“If you’re a well driller around here these days, you’re way busy,” he says.

This report is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Western Farm Press during the growing season. This edition was sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection.  If would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the Western Farm Press home page (westernfarmpress.com) and sign up for it and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.


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