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The New Mexico Department of Agriculture is floating the idea of restricting shipments of pecans grown in Otero County, after the agency confirmed pecan weevil infestations in the county.
Brad Lewis, the department’s agricultural and environmental services division director, said the proposed regulations aim to slow the spread of the weevil to uninfested areas.
“The weevil feeds on nuts,” he said. “Growers are forced to apply pesticides. Destroyed nuts can also reduce a (quality) grade, and for some processing facilities it is more time-consuming to process pecan weevil infested nuts.”
New Mexico produced nearly 79 million pounds of pecans in 2020.
The state ranks No. 2 for national pecan production behind Georgia.
A quarantine rule could require Otero pecan growers shipping to uninfested areas to store the in-shell nuts at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for a week or at 12.2 degrees for two weeks to kill the weevils.
Neighboring Doña Ana County grows the most pecans in New Mexico, with more than 56 million pounds in 2020.
Doña Ana has more cold storage facilities than most eastern counties. Otero growers would likely be permitted to transport their product to that county for treatment.
“They can put the nuts in a sealed trailer or sealed container that we have approved – because we don’t want a weevil crawling out on the road or a field – and then they could be treated at a facility there,” Lewis said.
Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties are already under a weevil quarantine.
Adult pecan weevils can stay in the ground for as long as three years. They emerge and fly into the tree canopy, where they lay eggs in the pecans.
“That’s what the pesticides are targeting, are those adults,” Lewis said. “But once the eggs hatch, those larvae enter into the nuts and the pesticides can’t get to them.”
The quarantine rule would apply to commercial and residential growers who are transporting pecans out of the county.