Sellers ‘tickled to death’ with season’s pecan prices

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bob Whaley, owner of Whaley’s Pecan Company in Troy, had to look twice to make sure what he was seeing.

A couple of men were knocking pecans from a tree with a long bamboo pole.

“It’s been a long time since I saw that,” Whaley said. “Almost everywhere you look, people are picking up pecans. There’s just been a lot of local excitement about this year’s pecan crop.”

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The high prices that the pecans are bringing have more to do with that than the desire to harvest the nut for holiday pies, cookies and candies.

And, the Chinese are partially to thank for that.

Whaley said China’s jump into the United States pecan market three years ago has helped create a greater demand for pecans than the supply.

“The walnut had been the favored nut in China for a long time but, three years ago, the local market wasn’t there and the world supply wasn’t there either,” Whaley said. “The Chinese decided to try pecans and the people loved them. That opened that market for us and it’s been a good one.”

To date this season, the Chinese have bought around 65 million pounds of U.S. produced pecans and that number is expected to rise to 85 million pounds.

“That’s an increased demand on the U.S. market so the prices being paid are higher,” Whaley said. “Locally, the prices have been between $1 and $1.50 a pound and that depends of the variety and the quality of the pecans. The higher prices have been an encouragement for people to get out and pick up pecans.”

Whaley Pecan Company has paid out thousands of dollars to local producers.

“People have been tickled to death at the prices,” Whaley said. “We’ve had lines all the way down the street and we’ve bought as few as 10 pounds and as many as 500 pounds at a time from local growers. A lot of people around here will have a merrier Christmas because of the prices paid to them for their pecans.”

Whaley said he likes to buy from local growers because it helps the local economy and it’s also beneficial to his company because there are no shipping charges.

“And, the nuts are usually good,” he said.

With China as a big buyer in the pecan market and other countries, such a Germany, France and India, being “courted” by American pecan producers associations, the demand should continue to exceed the supply, at least for about 20 years.

“In an effort to keep the demand high, pecan products are being introduced to other countries, like butter pecan ice cream to China,” Whaley said and added laughing that pecan pie could be next. “But the Chinese are aggressive people and they will eventually grow their own pecans. And they are good at marketing and very copiers. They’ll see something they like, grab the idea and run with it.”

The higher prices are also encouragement for greater U.S. production.

“I know right here, we’ve got about 14 people who going to dedicate 10 to 40 acres to pecans and there are probably others,” Whaley said. “Those pecans will start to come in seven to 10 years from now.”

Whaley said the supply will catch up with the demand “at some point.”

However, right now, the demand is greater than the supply so the pickin’s good.

“The prices continue to be good and there are still pecans to be harvested,” Whaley said. “I expect that we’ll be buying maybe into February.”

The United States in the world’s largest producer of pecans with about 250 million pounds annually. Mexico is second with 100 million bounds. Pike County produces around 40,000-plus pounds annually but Whaley said “tens of thousands pounds this year.”