Sustainable Farming and Pest Management
March 03, 2022

Sustainable Farming and Pest Management

I'm Andy Sherrod, Orchard Manager at Royalty Pecan Farm. It's early May, pollination is taking place, and the leaves are a vibrant green. Many of the terminal ends of these growing tips contain these clusters of pecans that will form the future crop that we'll harvest this coming winter. But now's not the time to let down our guard. Up to half of our crop could be eliminated right here at the beginning of the season by a tiny little insect called the pecan nut casebearer. 

That's a really long name for a very small moth that lays an egg on the terminal end of these clusters. The larva burrows in the side of each one, kills it, eats it, it falls to the ground. With enough time, that whole cluster can be eliminated and lose the potential to produce any pecans this fall. This is an annually occurring cycle, but science has given us a tool to monitor the beginning of the lifecycle of this insect. 

Andy shows a pest trap in the orchard


This trap (pictured) is a pheromone trap. A pheromone is an odor that insects use to communicate with each other. This particular pheromone attracts the male pecan nut casebearer moth. Inside these traps, there's a card and it looks like a rubber stopper, but this contains the synthetic pheromone that attracts the moths. Here is an example of a card that contains several male pecan nut casebearer moths. Here’s how it works. I'll put several of these traps out early in the season before the life cycle begins, and we'll get several nights of no catches at all. However, one night will catch 2 or 3, and the next night 5 or 6, and the next night 10 or 12. Well, then we know the life cycle has begun, and the female pecan nut casebearer moths are being fertilized. Seven days after the beginning of the fertilization period, the females will lay eggs on the terminal ends of these nut clusters. Well, 7 to 10 days after that those eggs are going to hatch, the larvae will burrow into the sides of those nutlets and the crop is gone. 

Image of pests caught in trap


It's that narrow 7 to 10 day window that we're looking for, and that's the time that we can act. We use a product that is specific only to killing the larvae of moths. Since that's the only moth in the orchard right now, the ladybugs, the lacewings, the spiders, and all similarly beneficial insects are totally unaffected. They're present in sufficient numbers to control another type of pest, the yellow pecan aphid, so we don't have to treat for that pest. 

Image of young pecan leaves and nutlets


This specific method of insect control fits beautifully into the sustainable agricultural production model that we implement here at the farm. We target the bad guy (in this case, the yellow pecan aphid), so the good guys (lady bugs, spiders, lacewings, etc) are in abundant numbers to control the pest. We don't have to use chemicals to do that, and it fits that sustainable agricultural production model. Now the reason the yellow pecan aphid is so detrimental to pecan production, is that there are three generations of this insect every year. If we aren't vigilant to kill the first, the second one even larger has the potential to cause more damage. And if the second isn't sufficiently controlled, the third generation can cause significant damage. Right now, that's what we're doing in the orchard. We're monitoring for pests and we'll soon be controlling major pests including pecan nut casebearer and yellow pecan aphid so we’ll have ample delicious and fresh pecans in the fall for you to enjoy.