eNews March 2021

PhD Student, Sara M. Torres, Begins Research on the Life Cycle Assessment of Pecan Orchards in the Mesilla Valley

PhD Student, Sara M. Torres, Begins Research on the Life Cycle Assessment of Pecan Orchards in the Mesilla Valley

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

PhD student Sara M. Torres’ dissertation follows the life cycle of pecan orchards to identify the water and environmental impacts at each stage of pecan production from cradle-to-gate. Cradle refers to the establishment of the orchard and gate represents the pecans leaving the orchard. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) will compare orchards using different irrigation schemes, including flood, drip, and micro-sprinklers in the Mesilla Valley. New Mexico is the second-largest pecan producer in the country, and Doña Ana County is the highest pecan-producing county in the United States. With this research, Sara hopes to provide producers with sustainability tradeoffs to help inform decisions on how to make pecan production more sustainable from cradle-to-gate.

This project has provided Sara the opportunity to get to know the pecan production culture in the Mesilla Valley. She has had the chance to talk with producers one-on-one and has learned a lot about the hopes and dreams producers have for the Valley. Sara states, “Being in the field speaking with stakeholders is my favorite part of my current role.”

Sara enjoys the project’s collaborative approach and working under the guidance of Dean Rolando Flores of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Alexander “Sam” Fernald, Director of NM Water Resources Research Institute. Her project is funded by the Hazel and Ulysses McElyea Endowment through the college of ACES. She is grateful for the critical conversations about research where individual and collective goals can be developed and used to execute and complete the proposed study on pecan orchard LCA. Sara states, “There is a creative energy to our meetings that I believe is helping move our research forward.”

Born and raised in Colombia, Sara recently lived in Colorado, Michigan, and now New Mexico. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. She has a Master of Science in Community Sustainability and another in Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences from Michigan State University.

Sara expects to graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in Water Science and Management in August 2022. She aspires to work on solving complex environmental problems at the community level. Sara hopes to use her skills and tools to implement environmental and behavioral theories to improve local environmental outcomes.