Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES--Sometimes you feel like a nut. And sometimes you feel like a different nut. Researchers with New Mexico State University are testing new varieties of pistachio and almond trees for the state's growers.
"In particular, we're looking for varieties that are disease-resistant and fit into our growing season," said Esteban Herrera, horticulturist with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station. "We want to increase the grower's options."
Building on research from the University of California-Davis and UC-Berkley, Herrera has planted verticillium wilt-resistant pistachio trees NMSU's Fabian Garcia Research Center on University Avenue.
"The University of California recently released seed from two wilt-resistant varieties to their state's growers," he said. "There is very limited availability of these seeds, making it difficult for out growers to obtain."
Verticillium is a soilborne fungus that invades trees through the root system. The fungus usually enters the tree through wounds and can spread throughout the tree via sap. Infected trees exhibit slow growth, branch dieback and curled, dry or discolored leaves.
NMSU purchased budwood, living stems with dormant buds, from the University of California to begin its own program. "We grafted the budwood into five young trees provided by Tom McGinn, president of the New Mexico Pistachio Growers," Herrers said. "In three years, we should have seed available for the state's growers."
In the future, orchard managers also will be able to purchase rootstock seedlings from NMSU's program to prepare their own grafted trees. "These rootstock will promote more vigorous growth than many rootstocks currently available," he said.
Disease-resistant trees should boost New Mexico's expanding pistachio crop, but it will take time. Pistachio trees can require ten years to achieve full production.
From 1992 to 1997, New Mexico's pistachio harvest increases from 64,000 pounds to more than 304,000 pounds. Most of the state's pistachios are grown in Otero County.
Almond production in New Mexico is very limited, however. Only 103 trees were counted statewide during the 1997 Census of Agriculture, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Almond trees bloom very early, usually flowering in February," Herrera said. "They are normally grown in temperate regions, so late-blooming varieties would be better suited to New Mexico's climate."
With help from the USDA, Herrera imported almond budwood from Italy and France three years ago. Isidro Pena, of Pena's Pecan Nursery, provided peach seedling rootstock for grafting the almond budwood. The trees were planted at the Fabian Garcia Research Center.
"We had some setbacks and had to replace trees killed by frost the first two years," he said. "But now we have about six trees established, and we're monitoring to see whether they actually bloom later and produce acceptable crops."
Almond trees generally can be harvested by the third year. Full production is reached by the seventh year.
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