The price of fame: Mesilla Valley pecans in high demand

The price of fame: Mesilla Valley pecans in high demand

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Quiet has returned to pecan groves like this one west of Las Cruces following a harvest season that ended in late January. Photo by Alta LeCompte.
Quiet has returned to pecan groves like this one west of Las Cruces following a harvest season that ended in late January. Photo by Alta LeCompte.

By ALTA LECOMPTE

Las Cruces Bulletin

When choosing an entrée, meat eaters are likely to gravitate to beef (it’s what’s for dinner) or pork (the other white meat).

Pecan eaters in the past haven’t had a zippy slogan to guide them as they choose what to munch on.

That’s about to change, said Phillip Arnold, manager of the Las Cruces office of San Saba pecan buyers.

As snackers and chefs around the world have discovered the taste and health benefits of nuts and nut products, demand has grown in the 21st century, Arnold said.

This year, Mesilla Valley pecan growers will reap the rewards, receiving prices as high as $3 per pound for No. 1 nuts, he said.

They also will pay the price of fame — a kind of surtax that will support a marketing campaign designed to distinguish their product from other nuts.

Arnold said the levy will be in effect for five years and will finance market research and help create a memorable identity designed to drive worldwide sales even higher.

“The industry has decided to tax itself,” he said. Federal legislation passed in the 1930s made the assessment possible.

The 2016 crop

As January came to a close, only a few local groves were waiting to be harvested.

Rain and hail caused some delays getting started in fall 2016, but overall the crop was healthy and prices were as well, Arnold said.

“We were able to get back in so it was not too much of a problem,” he said.

“Typically this would be an off-year with the valley cycling down a little,” said Gary Arnold, a partner in Arnold Brothers. His business grows pecans and also harvests for others.

“A few areas had hail and were down a little, but overall the quality is very good,” he said.

For groves that were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and got pummeled with hail three times, the yield may have dropped to as low as 400 pounds per acre where the normal yield would be 2,000.

The most damaging hails occurred in May and June, sweeping down from I-10 through Picacho Hills and into the valley.

Yet, Arnold reports, the industry weathered the storm.

“We had a typical year,” he said. “Demand was up, prices were pretty high and the kernel quality was very high — one of the best years in quality.”

Arnold said that Hatch, which had been off for several years, had “a decent crop.” Both quality and quantity were good there.

Phillip Arnold said this year’s crop moved out rapidly and by late January less than two percent of the crop was not under contract.

“At this point in time, a lot of years there are still 15 to 20 percent of the Western pecan crop for sale.”

He said the North American crop — pecans grown in the U.S and Mexico — hit more than 500 million pounds. It was a very good year.

Alta LeCompte can be reached at lecompte.alta@gmail.com or 575-343-7478.

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