Poor Pecan Crop and Consumption in China May Mean an Increase in Prices This Year

No matter how you say it -- pee-khan, pi-khan, pee-can or any other variation -- the price of pecans is going up.

The increase may not be seen on grocery store shelves just yet, but a number of contributing factors mean that your pecan pies will likely be a little more expensive this holiday season. But here in Texas, we need our pecan pie. In addition to the pecan tree being our state tree and the pecan being our state nut, earlier this year the Texas House of Representatives named pecan pie our state pie. So this is a big deal.

According to Forbes, the peak price for pecans in December 2012 was a little more than $2 per pound. Pecans are an alternate-bearing crop, meaning they have a good crop one year followed by a poor crop another year. Last year was an on year, with a huge bumper crop being harvested.

This year, growers are facing a low yield due to the pecan trees' yearly cycle as well as issues stemming from last year's drought, a late-spring freeze and increased demand for pecans in China. These factors have caused estimates of prices to be in the $9 to $11 per pound range for shelled pecans beginning in late November.

Blair Krebs, associate director of sales and marketing for the Texas Pecan Growers Association, says that people won't really know how much pecan prices will increase as a result of various growing and importing issues until last year's surplus has been used up.

"Early harvest starts in September and goes all the way to January," Krebs explains. "The prices probably should be higher depending on when the stock from last year runs out. That change may happen in January, or we may start to see it now."

Krebs noted that a drought in Texas during the last couple of years had killed off a lot of trees, while an early spring freeze in some areas killed the buds on many trees, meaning they won't produce a crop this fall. Heavy rains in September and October of this year have also delayed harvest. When farmers wait too long to harvest the pecans on their trees and on the ground around them, feral hogs and crafty crows get to the nuts first.

Experts such as Krebs are anticipating a strong year for pecan purchases, a result of both our love for pecans here in Texas and across the U.S., as well as a newfound affinity for pecans in China. China's desire for pecans really took off in 2007, when walnut prices were abnormally high, forcing the Chinese to switch to the more reasonably priced pecans. Since then, China has become the largest importer of American pecans. Last year, the country purchased more than one third of the entire U.S. pecan crop.

Some analysts are hoping that much of the stock China purchased last year will hold the country over this year and into next season, which will hopefully be better for U.S. and Texan growers.

Dr. Larry Stein, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist, tells Southwest Farm Press that even though this year's crop of Texas pecans might be small, the nuts produced will be of a good quality. The drought earlier in the season kept the pecans dry and free of diseases, so Stein expects the pecans to be filled with sweet, juicy meat.

For now, the price at Central Market is pretty great: $4.98 for a pound of pecans in the shell (the price goes up once they're shelled). We also called Goode Company to see if the potential increase in price has affected their pecan pies. They assured us that even if the price of pecans goes up, the price of their delicious Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie -- $36 in a special wooden box -- will remain the same.

Still, I'm going to go stock up on pecans now. Just in case.

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