Home News Local News Effort planned to eradicate pecan weevil locally

Effort planned to eradicate pecan weevil locally

Joe Gomez, left, hearing officer, and Brad Lewis, a New Mexico Department of Agriculture official, preside over a meeting Tuesday in Artesia about a proposed rule to restrict movement of pecans from the area for five years. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

As public hearings regarding a five-year pecan quarantine for southeastern New Mexico came to a close Tuesday, state agricultural officials said that they will begin spraying residential trees in the Roswell area within a couple of weeks in an effort to eradicate the pecan weevil pest from Chaves County.

Pecan weevils are known for boring perfectly circular holes in shells, as seen in this New Mexico State University photo. Once the weevils feed or lay eggs in the nuts, the pecans are inedible. (Submitted Photo)

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture met in Artesia for the third and final public hearing to gather public comments about a proposed rule to enact a five-year quarantine prohibiting the movement of in-shell pecans, husks and hulls from nuts produced in Chaves, Lea and Eddy counties to other counties in New Mexico, to El Paso County, Texas, and to states west of New Mexico unless those pecans have been treated in an approved way or are certified for shipment to treatment facilities.

About 16 people attended the Artesia meeting, with about half of them being representatives of the state Agriculture Department. No public comments were made, but people did ask questions and discuss the situation before and after the meeting.

About 65 people attended the public hearings held Friday in Las Cruces and Monday in Hobbs, including a significant number of residential growers in Hobbs. Written comments were due to the Agriculture Department by the end of the business day Tuesday.

“The industry has been very supportive about it (the rule),” said Brad Lewis, division director of Agricultural and Environmental Services for the New Mexico Agriculture Department.

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Growers generally say that they would rather bear the cost of a quarantine now than pay to try to eradicate a widespread infestation.

State officials estimate that it would cost the industry at least $4 million a year in pesticide treatments if the weevil moves across the state. That does not include how much the $220 million a year industry could lose from decreased production. Pecan weevils, the most significant pest to affect pecan crops, destroy the nuts by boring into the shells and then eating and laying eggs in the nut.

“As a representative of Chase Farms, a producer in the area, we are in favor of the quarantine as a tool to eradicate the weevil in our area,” said G.L. Strayer of Artesia. Although not at the Artesia meeting, he is an industry leader who serves on the American Pecan Council board.

“We work hard ourselves to try to control it,” he said, “and this will assist us in allowing us to keep control of it and identify where it is at and allow non-commercial growers the ability to treat the weevil.”

The Agriculture Department aims to have a decision from the New Mexico State University Board of Regents by late 2018 that would establish a quarantine to last until March 2023, unless otherwise amended or revoked. The “permanent” rule would replace an emergency quarantine that began in November 2017 after the weevil was discovered in several residential and commercial orchards in Lea, Eddy, Chaves and Curry counties.

Curry County has been removed from the five-year quarantine being considered because state officials believe they have isolated the area affected there and soon will be able to eradicate the pest.

Lewis said he is also hoping for the same outcome for Chaves County, which has had sightings of the pest in a few residential trees only.

“I think the thing is to concentrate on Roswell and try to eradicate it there so that we can remove Chaves County from the quarantine,” Lewis told producers.

Lewis explained that if the proposed rule is approved as is, with restrictions affecting Chaves County as well, state officials can seek to have it modified later if the situation warrants that.

Residential and non-commercial growers are being asked not to ship or move pecans outside Chaves County or their quarantined areas at all, but to sell within the county. But the official rule would mandate that in-shell pecans not be moved outside the quarantine area unless growers can certify that the pecans have been treated in approved ways (either freezing them at zero degrees for at least seven days or immersing them in 140-degree water for five minutes). In the alternative, the rule allows for the shipment of pecans in sealed containers or trucks directly to approved treatment facilities in Las Cruces or Texas. The secretary of the Department of Agriculture also can approve shipments.

An exterior quarantine has been in place since 1997, which prevents shipments of in-shell pecans into the state except from Arizona, California and a few counties in Texas.

Lewis said that within a few weeks, spraying is expected to begin for non-commercial orchards and trees in Chaves County. The state pays for the residential pesticide applications, with some funds coming last year from the Western Pecan Growers Association. Commercial growers do their own pesticide applications.

Lewis also said that he is hoping to work with Texas legislators and agriculture leaders to have them adopt stricter rules that would protect against the further spread of the weevil.

New Mexico is the nation’s second-largest pecan producer at 92 million pounds in 2017, according to a report published by the Agriculture Department. Chaves County is the third-largest producer in New Mexico, growing 5 million pounds last year.

People with questions about the pecan weevil, possible infestations in their trees or the quarantine can call the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, 575-646-3007, or the Chaves County Cooperative Extension Service Office, 575-622-3210.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.