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Chinese influence still bolstering pecan market

Larry Willson, CEO of Willson Farm Company, gives a presentation on pecan production to the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club this week.

Larry Willson, CEO of Willson Farm Company, gives a presentation on pecan production to the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club this week.

ALBANY, Ga. — The Chinese people's discovery of pecans has sent prices soaring as supply has sought to catch demand, Willson Farming CEO Larry Willson told the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County Monday.

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Typically a stalwart for walnuts, the People's Republic of China has increasingly developed a taste for pecans instead and when a nation of more than 1 billion people like something, people take notice.

"Over the last 7 to 8 years the price of pecans, because of the China market, has gone up to the point that in 2011 ... they were paying $3.20 cents per pound in-shell," Willson said. "Of course that got everyone excited."

Conversely, domestic consumption has dipped, Willson said, but not enough to offset the gains made in China keeping the price high.

Domestic consumers, Willson say, have largely been turned away thanks to sticker shock due to the high prices.

"Pecans compete against walnuts or they compete against almonds and it just got way out of hand when a meat or kernel buyer was having to pay $7 or $8 a pound for halves and $6.25 for pieces or whatever, it just skewed the market the wrong way."

With prices still high, Willson says that it has been a growers market, with thousands of new acres of pecan orchards popping up.

"There's a lot of new orchards and acreage coming in and a lot of people refurbishing old orchards with new varieties that are popular right now," Willson said.

One of those varieties, the Desirable, is the one most preferred by the Chinese and is a bigger nut, he says. His farming group, which is a part of Sunnyland Farms, has recently taken a fresh look at its own orchards and refurbished old varieties by planting some newer varieties.

Looking ahead, the novelty of the Chinese entrance to the market may have hit its peak thanks in part to the fact that the Chinese appear to have learned that the prices they've been paying may have been artificially inflated.

"Last year, the average price per pound was well over two dollars," Willson said. "This year, the estimates are that the price will be around $1.91 and that's primarily because there was a discrepancy in the price for the Chinese market.