LSU researching economics of establishing pecan orchard

Scientists at the LSU AgCenter's Pecan Research Station near Shreveport, La., are evaluating the economics involved in establishing and maintaining a new orchard.

They are studying what it takes to start an orchard as a means of assessing the feasibility of current recommendations offered to producers. As part of the study, the LSU AgCenter researchers are planting a new orchard and are keeping up with all costs involved from planting until the orchard has produced several crops.

“It is important for us to evaluate our recommendations from time to time to make sure we are providing growers with appropriate information to make pecan production a positive monetary investment” said Charles Graham, an LSU AgCenter horticulturist, at a field day held recently at the Pecan Research Station.

“We will keep up with the costs involved in planting each variety individually and will be able to use this knowledge to help producers select the best varieties for their orchard management styles.”

The new orchard is expected to be in the ground by December. Varieties planted in the production demonstration orchard will be Caddo, Desirable, Elliott, Nacono, Oconee, and Pawnee. All varieties will be grafted onto Moore rootstock. Cultural practices that will be used include irrigation, herbicide strip weed control, foliar applications of zinc and integrated pest management approaches to control insects, mites and diseases.

There was a lot of scab damage in pecans this year for people who didn't spray or did not have resistant varieties. Randy Sanderlin, an LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said it was probably the worst year in 10 for scab disease.

“A good time to start spraying for scab disease is after 1-inch leaf growth,” Sanderlin said.

To obtain the best control and reduce the chances of pathogen resistance, Sanderlin said, growers should use a rotation of fungicides from different groups or a mixture of fungicides from different groups.

The effect of rain on spray schedules was another topic addressed during the field day. John Pyzner, an LSU AgCenter horticulturist, said this year's rains have “played havoc” on the timing of spraying orchards.

“The rain has also caused the grounds in the orchards to become soft,” Pyzner said. “We're seeing a lot of ruts being caused by heavy equipment being run through the orchards. These ruts have to be repaired, so the nuts won't fall in them and be lost.”

The time spent on those repairs causes orchard owners to lose time that could be spent completing other work in their orchards to improve the condition of their trees.

The LSU AgCenter also is continuing its study in controlling insects by planting trap crops, such as sorghum, millet and cowpeas, around pecan orchards. Mike Hall, an LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the insects are attracted to the trap crops and away from the orchard. His study is to determine which crop is most attractive to stink bugs.

“Weed control in orchards also is important,” Hall said. “It's important to keep weeds down to minimize the chance for insects such as stink bugs to build up in an orchard.”

The spread of bacteria by grafting trees is another area researchers at the LSU AgCenter's Pecan Research Station are studying. The bacterium that causes pecan leaf scorch is transmitted by grafting, Sanderlin said. “We grafted some trees with pecan leaf scorch with trees that didn't have it in May 2003,” Sanderlin said. “In September 2003, some of the grafted trees were showing signs of the disease. Because of this, we believe the disease can be transmitted by grafting.”

A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter.

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