5 Tips for Getting Involved in the Industry
After deciding to become a grower or sheller, you may feel as though you’ve hit a wall. There’s much you’ve prepared for, but there’s even more that you haven’t. And now, those aspects of conducting business loom over you.
You have an incredible journey ahead of you with thousands of steps to take and decisions to make. One path you may consider along the way is getting involved in the pecan industry and using the resources available to you through industry groups.
Here are five simple tips for getting involved in the pecan industry.
1. Research and reach out to a local pecan association or organization
As you begin your pecan journey, the first thing to recognize is that you are not alone. There are people out there waiting to answer your questions, connect you with other industry members and researchers, and provide you with the support and tools needed to succeed. Local, state, and national pecan associations exist to support growers, shellers, and other industry members as they navigate the pecan industry and strive to better their businesses.
Within the United States, there are 21 national, regional, and state pecan organizations. Of those 21 associations, 14 are specifically grower-focused and state or regionally focused as well. Each one of those specializes in supporting the growers in its area and its own way.
The Arizona Pecan Grower’s Association is one of these pecan grower-oriented groups. Like its sister organizations with their niche, APGA focuses on understanding and responding to Arizona growers’ needs.
“Arizona pecan producers are known for high-quality pecans with larger sizes and the most variety of cultivars planted in the West that appeal to certain parts of the pecan market. The Arizona pecan production is increasing and is a permanent and valuable agricultural industry in the state, with only about half of planted acreage in fruit-bearing years,” APGA President Harold Payne clarifies. “The Arizona Pecan Grower’s Association ensures that the most current knowledge in all aspects of pecan cultivation is available for its progressive members, and the most relevant research is being conducted on issues pertaining to Arizona pecan production.”
Another group, the Southeastern Pecan Growers Association, has a regional focus and serves producers throughout the Southeast. “Our annual convention provides a meeting place for all growers in the southeastern states and beyond, for contacts with vendors of interest to pecan growers and industry, as well as educational presentations from qualified speakers on topics that benefit all growers,” says Vicki Jenkins, SEPGA’s Executive Secretary/Treasurer. “We also give great importance to generating funds for contributions to various organizations for the support and promotion of the pecan industry.”
The remaining seven associations within the American pecan industry include the American Pecan Council, the U.S. Pecan Growers Council, the National Pecan Shellers Association, the National Pecan Federation, the American Pecan Board, the Georgia Pecan Commission, and the Texas Pecan Board.
Out of these seven, the National Pecan Shellers Association reflects growers’ groups the closest in its mission and activities, but just as grower groups back growers, the NPSA bolsters pecan shellers. “The National Pecan Shellers Association’s mission is to support and promote the interests of pecan shellers and the global industry to assure the quality, safety, and integrity of pecan products worldwide,” says Hannah Perkins, Members Services for NPSA.
With 21 groups to choose from, you are sure to find one that fits your specific needs. Many pecan growers and shellers also cross state and industry lines by becoming members of multiple organizations. Additionally, there are international pecan organizations that support producers and processors in other countries.
As you continue your pecan journey, take the time to explore your options, and remember that if you join one local association, you’re not bound to it for life; you can join another if it better suits you.
2. Learn about the different national organizations working for the industry
Beyond member-based associations, six groups exist that are currently working for the industry’s interest as a whole. By knowing and understanding these organizations, you can develop a greater knowledge of how the industry can and will ultimately impact your pecan operation. And if you’d like, you can also become involved in these groups.
First, the National Pecan Federation (NPF) was created two years ago by five industry associations that came together and formed an organization to secure representation in Washington, D.C. The National Pecan Federation relies on lobbyist Bob Redding of the Redding Firm to act in the industry’s interest; the NPF draws funding from Oklahoma Pecan Growers, Texas Pecan Growers, Western Pecan Growers, Southeastern Pecan Growers, Georgia Pecan Growers, and the National Pecan Shellers Associations. While working to form and collecting private funding for a political action committee, the NPF works to get pecan’s voice heard on issues such as trade, food safety, the Farm Bill, and the Market Access Program. One example of the NPF’s efforts can be seen in the letter signed by 35 members of the House of Representatives that called for the U.S. Trade Representative to focus on India’s pecan tariff. Through walking the hill and meeting with these representatives, the NPF put the pecan industry in front of Washington decision-makers to allow members to share their concerns.
Another national organization within the pecan industry is the American Pecan Council. Established in 2016, the American Pecan Council is the industry’s Federal Marketing Order, one of 29 FMOs in the United States. Like other FMOs, growers voted the APC into existence, and the industry elected its council members.
“The American Pecan Council (APC) is the largest, broadest organization in the pecan industry. As a Federal Marketing Order, it is the purest form of local government—it’s run, funded, and managed by industry with USDA oversight,” Alexander Ott, the APC’s Executive Director, explains. “The APC has the ability to market and promote pecans domestically and internationally, conduct and commission research, collect data, establish grades and standards, and oversee compliance. As a result of its efforts, pecan consumption grew 12 percent in the last four years and over 33 percent just last year. Thanks to unification, the pecan industry has employed its limited resources to finally capture its share of the market, driving supply and demand.”
In addition to the APC, three organizations focus on specific marketing arms within the industry. These are the U.S. Pecan Growers Council, the Texas Pecan Board, and the Georgia Pecan Commission.
The Texas Pecan Board and the Georgia Pecan Commission are state check-off programs; the U.S. Pecan Growers Council works on international promotions. All three promote the pecan by raising awareness of its nutritional benefits and marketing to their targeted consumers.
Each of these five national organizations has its own purpose. Although separate entities, they remain in contact and their efforts often directly impact the others’ ongoing projects.
3. Discover the educational materials at your fingertips
Moving forward in your pecan journey, you will find questions and issues arising that you may not have anticipated. Or even if you did expect them, you have no idea how to address those problems. Well, the industry possesses plenty of educational materials and research. You just have to know where to look.
Besides popping up in a quick Google search, many of those educational materials can be found through local, state, and national associations. In fact, that association’s staff or volunteers may be able to help you narrow that search and connect you directly with the appropriate resources. Some of their websites may also feature information and data.
The Texas Pecan Growers Association, for instance, provides a “Resources” section on its website— tpga.org —that includes links to helpful articles and presentations from its annual conference. TPGA also has an online bookstore filled with pecan-related books covering management, history, and nutrition.
The American Pecan Council’s website is a treasure trove of information for pecan industry members. AmericanPecan.com not only has a section featuring all the latest health and nutritional information, but it also has an entire block dedicated to industry members. Within the “For Industry” tab, you can discover industry data and analytics, minutes from past APC meetings, and social media tools for your marketing efforts.
New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences stores information on the latest research, tips on pecan management, and other materials on a page dedicated solely to pecans—pecans.nmsu.edu.
Likewise, the University of Georgia Extension has a webpage featuring many pecan resources, including information on lab testing and analysis services, links to popular publications, and the latest news out of Georgia.
These are just a few places where you can find more educational materials and information. As you continue expanding your pecan knowledge, these troves of information will grow with you, so be sure to bookmark them for future reference.
4. Connect with fellow industry members
Merely knowing about and being a member of these associations and organizations may prove not enough to assist you through your pecan journey. Sometimes you may find yourself needing to talk face-to-face with other association members or industry representatives, people who can relate to what you’re going through.
All of the groups—mentioned and not mentioned—have meetings and conferences. Some of these events are free to attend, while others require registration fees. Those events provide a chance for you and other industry members to meet face-to-face, talk with vendors, and learn about the latest research, production techniques, or market updates.
The Alabama Pecan Growers Association holds an annual meeting on the third Thursday of September, while the Louisiana Pecan Growers Association hosts their “TriState Pecanference” in conjunction with Arkansas and Mississippi in mid-June.
Beyond the meetings held by associations, you can also look into classes and events sponsored by universities, Research and Extension, and other pecan businesses.
For instance, the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma, has a free event titled “Hedging to Increase Pecan Production” that will be held on March 10. Linwood Nursery in La Grange, California, hosts pecan field days throughout February in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. At the beginning of October, the TriAgri Farm Center invites Oklahoma and North Texas growers to tour their processing plant and join the Hamilton family for dinner. Both New Mexico State University and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension conduct pecan short courses for growers and industry members alike.
Starting in 2019, the American Pecan Council also hosts a biannual Pecan Congress, where all pecan organizations gather, discuss industry issues, and share projects and ideas. The Pecan Congress is free to attend and open to the public; the first one in 2020 is scheduled for April.
All these events and the many others not listed provide you a chance to connect with fellow industry members and learn more about pecans. This step to getting involved in the pecan industry can do more than give you new knowledge; it may enable you to develop lasting friendships and establish potential business connections.
5. Use what you want to use
Now, it’s true that you don’t have to be a member of any of these associations or be deeply involved in the industry to become successful. Many pecan growers and shellers focus on their businesses, read the latest in pecan research, talk with their county extension agents, and don’t attend any conferences or educational meetings. You know your pecan operation better than anyone else; therefore, you know what you need. For this final step, we recommend you follow your gut and get involved however much you wish to.
If you only want to join your state’s grower association, go for it! If you want to become a board member eventually, then that’s a great goal too. Each person’s journey is different within the pecan industry, and only they can decide which path to take and how that journey progresses. These five tips represent some options you have when moving forward with your business and getting involved in the industry. That involvement, though, depends on you.
As the pecan industry grows and shifts, you remain a valuable member. Every step we take in our individual pecan journey is another one that the whole industry takes together while working in unity.
Editor’s note: In January 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the creation of a pecan research and promotion program, oversaw by the American Pecan Promotion Board. This program is different than the FMO.