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Pecan buying rule under consideration after public meetings

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New Mexico Department of Agriculture officials are taking public comments into consideration and debating whether to proceed with a proposed state rule that aims to prevent pecan thefts by requiring buyers to obtain licenses.

Department officials held public meetings in Artesia on Monday and Las Cruces on Tuesday to hear from industry members and the public about what concerns they might have regarding proposed rule changes.

“The producers helped write the rule, and they are looking forward to its promulgation,” said Brad Lewis, division director of agricultural and environmental services with the department.

The rule change and its related rule amendments and repeals are designed to address a problem identified by pecan producers, buyers and law enforcement — the theft of pecans from commercial orchards. According to comments at a March public forum by New Mexico Department of Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte, producers have reported severe problems in certain areas of the state, including trucks pulling up to orchard trees to fill their truck beds with pecans. Law enforcement also has expressed concerns that a theft situation could result in violence since often sometimes all parties are armed.

In February, the New Mexico State Legislature passed the Pecan Buyers Licensing Act that seeks to reduce the problem by requiring buyers to obtain annual licenses as well as maintain detailed records about their purchases. The NMDA rules and amendments are designed to put the new act into the New Mexico Administrative Code and will develop means to ensure proper measuring and weighing.

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None of the nine people at the Artesia meeting made any public comments, although a couple asked some questions. In Las Cruces, two pecan industry members spoke in favor of the new regulations, Lewis said.

Written comments still can be provided to the department at 3190 S. Espina, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88003.

Lewis said NMDA Secretary Jeff Witte and others now will consider whether to recommend approval of the rule, with the expectation that the New Mexico State University Board of Regents will vote on the matter by August.

If the rules are approved, buyers should be able to begin applying for licenses in October.

New Mexico is the second-largest pecan grower in the nation. In 2016, production totaled 72 million pounds and was valued at $213.1 million. In Chaves County, 2016 production was 5 million pounds.

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