New Mexico State University will soon be able to vastly expand its pecan research potential, thanks to a generous donation of 1,000 pecan trees by Linwood Nursery in California. The donation means NMSU now has nearly 30 acres of pecan trees for research, giving it the largest university pecan research acreage west of Texas and the third largest in the country.
"Pecans are hugely important in the state and the region," said Richard Heerema, NMSU's Extension pecan specialist. "One of the things we've really needed was to expand our research acreage. These new trees will help (researchers) get a much better handle on the ideal input levels for water and nutrients. We'll also be able to study other areas, including pest control, pruning and orchard floor management."
Pecans are one of the most valuable agricultural products grown in New Mexico, with the state typically ranking near the top in production for the entire country. New Mexico has an estimated 40,000 acres of pecan trees, which produced approximately 70 million pounds of pecans in 2009. That year's crop was valued at $133 million.
High revenue potential
"Pecan trees are attractive to growers because they tend to generate higher revenue per acre than other crops grown in New Mexico," Heerema said.
The donated pecan trees were planted this spring on 10 acres at the Leyendecker Plant Science Center south of Las Cruces and on another 10 acres at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Artesia. Heerema said it takes five to six years for pecan trees to start producing nuts, and about seven years for a commercial crop.
The trees at the Leyendecker site have a historically common spacing of 30 by 30 feet. They are the Pawnee variety, which Heerema said is relatively new for New Mexico. The trees at the Artesia site have a spacing of 20 by 40 feet. The varieties there are split, with half Pawnee and the other half Western. The differences in spacing, variety and location will help in research.
NMSU previously had just seven acres of pecans for research at the university's Leyendecker Plant Science Center. The plot, planted in the 1970s, was originally designed to be a spacing and variety trial. Heerema said those trees weren't the most ideal sample orchard because they are planted in heavy soil, which is different from most other pecan groves in the region. NMSU has two other plots of pecans, each one-acre in size in Los Lunas. Because of their small size, those plots are used more for demonstration purposes than for research.
To offset the previous size of NMSU's pecan test acreage, the university participated in cooperative projects with growers around the region. While beneficial, these projects had limitations because the university could not ask private growers to stress their trees in a way that could reduce yield, something needed for certain testing. The university plans to continue with cooperative research projects, but will have more of its own trees for stress testing.
"It's our hope that these new trees are just the beginning, and that we'll continue to expand our research acreage in the future," Heerema said.
The trees donated by Linwood are valued at $25,000. Heerema credited Tracey Carrillo, assistant director of NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station; Mark Pacheco, farm manager of the Leyendecker Plant Science Center; and Robert Flynn, Extension specialist for NMSU's Extension Plant Sciences, for their help with the project.
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