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NM Farmers Fight Pests, Thieves for Lucrative Pecan Crop

Some pecan growers in New Mexico have resorted to hiring private security guards to quell a rash of thieves stealing the nuts to sell them. (nmsu.edu)
Some pecan growers in New Mexico have resorted to hiring private security guards to quell a rash of thieves stealing the nuts to sell them. (nmsu.edu)
January 2, 2018

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – New Mexico's pecan harvest is underway, and farmers are not only fighting off a devastating pest, they're also guarding crops against thieves who make off with large quantities of pecans under the cover of night.

Until May 20, the Department of Agriculture has placed a quarantine on pecans coming from the eastern New Mexico counties of Chaves, Curry, Eddy and Lea. It's asking the public to be on the lookout for pecan weevils and report them.

Phillip Arnold, president of the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, said it's especially important to keep the pecan weevil out of Doña Ana County, which is the number-one pecan-producing county in the nation.

"It's a very devastating pest,” Arnold said. “We’re trying to help protect the industry, which is a major deal because pecans have become the second-largest cash crop in the state of New Mexico."

He said Doña Ana County expects this year's harvest to be up to 100 million pounds.

In addition to the threat from weevils, Arnold said county authorities have reported huge thefts of pecans in recent years, among large-scale farmers and even backyard growers.

The losses come as farmers like Arnold work with local and state officials to improve ordinances and ramp up the criminal prosecution of pecan thieves. While some growers hire their own security guards to patrol their orchards, Arnold said many pecan growers can't afford to go that route.

"I mean, you've got people going in at night, sneaking into growers' orchards and putting plastic tarps out on the ground, banging the nuts out on the tarps and actually harvesting the pecans – stealing them, taking them and selling them,” he said.

As America's appetite for nuts has grown, the price for nut crops has soared in many regions, including California, where a new breed of thieves carting away crops by the truckload has been compared to cattle rustlers of bygone days.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM