The New Mexico Department of Agriculture is moving to make permanent an emergency quarantine affecting pecan growers and distributors in the area and meant to protect the state’s $200 million industry from the pecan weevil.
The department has issued a proposed rule that would institute the quarantine for Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties for five years, unless amended or revoked, starting in late 2018. Public hearings to gather comments begin today and include a Tuesday hearing in Artesia.
The major change from the emergency quarantine that took effect in 2017 is that Curry County will no longer be included. However, the quarantine rule will continue to restrict the movement of in-shell pecans or any husks or shells or containers that might contain the pest from Lea, Eddy or Chaves counties to other areas, unless the pecans are treated in approved ways to destroy any possible infestation or otherwise obtain official approval for shipment.
“We believe that we have identified that the infestation is at a single tree in the Curry area at this time and believe that eradication of infestation at that tree is well underway at this time,” said Brad Lewis, Division Director of Agricultural and Environmental Services for the New Mexico Agricultural Department.
He added that Chaves County has only spotted the weevil in non-commercial urban orchards, but that the pest has been found in some commercial orchards elsewhere in the quarantine area.
Sandra Barraza, director of the Chaves County Extension Office of New Mexico State University, said she thinks there is good support for the quarantine rule.
“The quarantine has actually been producer-driven because the quarantine is to protect the commercial orchards throughout the state,” Barraza said. “I do believe that one of the new things that is written into this quarantine that would be put into place is that there is sunset clause so it is something that will not go on forever.”
She said that the agricultural industry is mostly concerned with letting homeowners and non-commercial growers in the area know about the quarantine and the pest problem, as they tend not to be as aware of the restrictions or the seriousness of the issue.
The weevil was discovered in this region in late 2016. It can live deep in soil as mature larvae. The adult weevil, or beetle, bores circular holes into shells to feed on the nuts, typically during summer, with females laying eggs and larvae in the nuts. Once weevils enter the nut, it becomes unusable.
A 9 a.m. meeting today to collect comments will occur in Las Cruces. A 2:30 p.m. Monday meeting will occur in Hobbs at the Agnes Kastner Community Center, 200 E. Park St. The Artesia meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Artesia Public Schools Administration Building, 300 Bulldog Blvd. People also can submit written comments by Tuesday via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Mexico producers rank second in the United States for pecan production, growing more than a quarter of the U.S. crop, according to the “2016 New Mexico Agricultural Statistics” report of the state agricultural department. In 2016, the state produced 72 million pounds worth $213 million.
Chaves County is the third-largest pecan producing county in New Mexico, with 5 million pounds in 2016.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at email@example.com.