By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer
Peanuts may be important to Roosevelt County, but they aren’t the only nuts in the jar.
Pecans aren’t a major crop in the county, but the area is home to several orchards.
Local pecan grower Michael Eaton tends an orchard on Roosevelt Road P, along with his family’s second orchard in Curry County, about 1,800 acres of conventional crops and some cattle.
Eaton said the pecans make the difference in his family making a living in agriculture.
“I think the best thing about it is you’re continually learning,” Eaton said.
Eaton said he also likes watching the trees develop over time, seeing grafts grow from a bud to a tree and meeting people from all over in his pecan shop.
This year he had a light harvest, primarily because last year he had a heavy harvest and chose not to prune the trees as much as normal, Eaton said. He sells as many of the nuts as possible locally and sends the rest to processors in Las Cruces, who sell many of the pecans in China.
Mechanic Terrell Standefer owns a pecan orchard on N.M. 88 near Portales and said he has encountered many unexpected aspects of raising the trees since he bought the orchard three years ago.
“Every time I turned around, there was something else,” he said.
Pecan farmers just have to experiment with what they think will work, and no one is an expert, Standefer said.
Eaton said many people say Portales is too far north to grow pecans, but that’s not true.
“It’s how you take care of your tree,” he said.
To help the husks open and release the nuts despite the colder winter weather in this area, Eaton waters and fertilizes the trees later in the year.
Also, he said, New Mexico’s large amount of sunlight and few pecan pests are strengths for raising the nuts.
Still, Standefer said the late and early freezes in this area can cause problems, and the lack of water is a challenge.
The pecan harvest begins after temperatures drop into the low 20s, and finishes in mid-January, Eaton said. He uses machines to shake the nuts off the trees, rake them into wind rows and pick them up.
Then he prunes and transplants trees for the rest of the winter to make sure they and their branches are spaced out enough to get sufficient sunlight.
In mid-April, pecan growers begin watering, fertilizing and controlling weeds. Among other efforts, Eaton sprays zinc on the trees about four times a year.
“That’s the slowest, worst part about it, is spraying all night,” he said.
In August, if the trees have a lot of developing and unripe nuts, pecan growers may shake some off the branches so the trees don’t use as much energy producing so many pecans. If they grow large amounts of nuts one year, Eaton said, the trees will produce fewer the next.
At the end of October or beginning of November, irrigation stops and the pecan harvest rolls around again.
“Everything I did to (the trees) this year is going to affect them next year,” Eaton said.
So, even if he has a small crop, he puts in the effort for a better one next year.
• “Pecan” means “crack with rock” in an American Indian language.
• Pecans are native to the United States.
• Pecan trees get 90 percent of their water from the top 3 feet of soil.
• Pecans must be kept cool or they will become rancid and dark-colored in storage.
• An ideal pecan crop is 60 percent of the terminals on the branches producing nuts.
• Pecan and hickory trees come from the same family.
• Pecans only grow on the outermost parts of branches.
Source: Michael Eaton