As domestic demand for pecans continues to grow here in the US, supply of the American Pecan is struggling to keep pace. Pecan growers are scattered across the southern US, from north Florida to southern California and every state in between, the US has a wide swath of pecan producing area across the south with ample land to grow pecans, however pecan growers continue to struggle to keep pace with demand.
Unlike annual crops that can quickly adjust to changes to consumer trends or new market development, pecans take a significant amount of time to bring into production. In fact, in most new commercial orchard planting pecans will usually take around 7-8 years to come into production. Depending on the grower and the cultivar chosen some new platings can take slightly longer and other can come into production slightly quicker. However, 7-8 years is the industry average to bring new pecan orchards into production. The planting to production gap is the major hurdle for pecan growers across the US.
Several years ago the pecan growers formed a marketing order that would afford them various new avenues for data collection and marketing and research, among other activities. While the industry has had some issues with board members, the marketing order has nonetheless performed well over its short existence. While exports of pecans have seen a decrease due in large part to trade tensions, the demand for pecans has continued to rise. The domestic demand for pecans has continued to rise fast enough to outweigh the fallen and perpetually sluggish export numbers. Exports to date are down just under 13 million pounds from last year’s dismal numbers.
Nevertheless growers still struggle to keep pace with the growing demand for pecans. As consumer eating habits continue to shift toward less processed foods, the nut industry continues to see growth in multiple facets of the food industry, from sweet and savory snacks with nuts as the main ingredient, to large industrial users looking for alternative sources of proteins for their mixtures. Consumers preferences for plant based proteins is on an upward trend and pecans are a good source of plant proteins that is more versatile than other more dense nuts.
This demand has growers planning orchards years ahead of schedule. Many growers across the southern US are planting a feverish pace, and planning new orchards each year. Seasoned growers are planning 10 years ahead for new orchards and are planting trees now for the future production. Many growers elect to over plant on existing land with the plans to move the trees once they reach a certain size or as quickly as they can get to them. Because of land cost and the time and effort to clear new land for pecan development, many growers are planting 3 and 4 times the amount of trees on their open land with plans to move the trees at a later date. This method of planning ahead allows growers bring new orchards into production faster with slightly less outlay of capital.
However growers go about planning ahead for new orchards, the time to production is still several years and this gap has continued to allow production in the US to lag behind new demand.