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State receives funding for pecan pests

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In Chaves County, the pecan weevil is a serious pecan crop pest, but statewide the brown marmorated stink bug, shown in this photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is also among the insects that scientists are seeking to control or eradicate. (Submitted Photo)

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) has received a $25,000 federal appropriation to combat pecan pests, which will mean that state workers will visit commercial orchards in Chaves County and elsewhere to determine whether pests are threatening the state’s pecan crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $59.5 million in February for pest disease control funding to most states and U.S. territories following Congressional approval of the 2019 Farm Bill.

The NMDA has been receiving about the same amount each year for pecan nut pest detection from the Farm Bill since 2015, said Ryan Hiles, assistant division director for the Entomology and Nursery Industries Bureau of the NMDA.

“Even though it seems like a minimal amount of funding, it was significant in helping us detect some of the pecan weevil issues we found in the area,” Hiles said.

He explained that other sources of federal funding exist for other crop pests. Also, funding besides federal monies exists for pecan pests, but the Farm Bill is the appropriation vehicle for USDA funding related to statewide, rather than national, pest issues.

“What this survey has allowed us to do is to look for a few invasive pests of pecans,” Hiles said. “The primary pests we have been targeting over the last few years are the hickory shuckworm; the brown marmorated stink bug; the pecan weevil, at least in Chaves County; and then, through some of the western counties, the pecan nut casebearer.”

Pecans are a major crop for the state, worth about $213 million a year, according to the most recently issued New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Bulletin. Chaves County is the third largest producer in the state, harvesting about 5 million pounds a year. For two years, the state has enforced a quarantine on the shipping of in-shell pecans from several eastern counties in the state, including Chaves County, unless growers meet certain conditions to ensure the crop is free from the pecan weevil.

The weevil has been spotted in new locations during the past year, Hiles said, but those new sightings have been close to known infestations, which can simplify eradication efforts. However, eradication is a seven- to 10-year process, he added.

The NMDA is completing ongoing surveys with 2018 funding and will start new detection projects after July 1 with the new funding. The commercial orchards are chosen to represent a wide geographical area.

“The commercial growers have always been great about allowing us to come in and do those surveys,” said Hiles, “because it is mutually beneficial to them and the state if we detect those pests early.”

He added that the NMDA plans to request the pest detection funding in future years as well.

The USDA has supported more than 2,346 projects since 2009 and provided approximately $293.5 million in funding, according to a news release.

“Our partners use these USDA funds and their own expertise to conduct critical projects that keep U.S. crops, nurseries, and forests healthy, boost the marketability of agricultural products within the country and abroad, and help us do right and feed everyone,” said Greg Ibach, undersecretary for USDA”s marketing and regulatory programs.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.