Importance and Issues of Pecans in the Global Market
Of the 37.6 TMT of pecans exported from the United States in 2022, the largest market for both varieties is Mexico, 7.08 TMT of inshell and 5.0 TMT of shelled (Figure 4). From 2018 to 2022, Mexico has accounted for 47 to 67 percent of the exported volume of inshell pecans and 7 to 21 percent of the shelled volume. After Mexico, China is the next largest market abroad for inshell U.S. pecans, which is currently set to import a larger volume than Mexico for the first time since at least 2018. As for shelled pecans, Canada follows, having imported 4.8 TMT of shelled pecans in 2022. Mexico and Canada together have annually imported 27 to 41 percent of the shelled pecans exported from the United States since 2018. The is also a major importer of shelled pecans for the United States, followed by Israel and Germany, both of which saw the import volume decline slightly in 2022. Note that ports of both the Netherlands and Germany have the infrastructure to see large volumes of imports with few other EU countries on the list. There is a likelihood that some of this exported volume could be re-exported after reaching the destination.
The largest port district for both inshell and shelled pecan exports last year was in Texas. Just over 7 TMT of inshell pecans passed through the El Paso district are destined for Mexico, and El Paso was also the second largest district for shelled pecan exports with 4.86 TMT (Figure 5). Following El Paso for inshell exports, 4.75 TMT of pecans were exported to China via the Savannah port district.
As for shelled pecan exports, 11 TMT were exported via the Houston port district (Figure 5). These pecans through the Houston district were destined for many different countries, but more than half went to the Netherlands, Israel, Germany, and the United Kingdom. This was, of course, followed by the El Paso district that exported entirely to Mexico and the Detroit port district where 3.02 TMT was exported to Canada.
In 2022, the United States imported 11.8 TMT of inshell pecans and another 43.8 TMT of shelled pecans (Figure 6). For both kinds of U.S. pecan imports, more than 98 percent have come from Mexico annually since 2018. Inshell pecan imports have fallen every year since 2018 (Figure 7), while shelled pecan imports have seen a recurring cycle of imports with every other year being a higher volume than the year prior (Figure 8). Part of this cycle could be caused by trees’ tendency to be alternate bearing and Mexico supplying the U.S. market to fill this demand in the years where yields are below what is typical. Imports of shelled pecans are also artificially increased due to re-imports. Much of the inshell pecan volume that is exported to Mexico is shelled at facilities where labor costs are lower and re-imported by the United States.
Through August 2023, the United States has already imported a higher volume of inshell pecans than in 2022. This will be the first year since 2018 where pecan imports have not fallen from the previous year. Shelled pecan imports are not exceeding 2022’s import volume on the same staggering level but are still higher than the previous year, which matches the previously mentioned cycle of higher import volume every other year.
Despite the fact that Mexico is the largest destination for both inshell and shelled pecan exports for the United States, Mexico placed multiple U.S. states in a quarantine for pecan weevils in 1944. This quarantine zone reaches from Georgia through most of Texas and also includes one county in New Mexico. This eventually led to a quarantine in the United States to prohibit the movement of pecans and pecan weevils from quarantined areas. Today, pecan weevil remains one of the largest barriers for trade within the pecan industry.
In Texas, phytosanitary regulations explain that pecans from quarantined areas can enter Texas for processing after completing a structured cold storage treatment or hot water bath to kill weevils. Pecans grown in quarantine areas within the state are allowed to move to non-quarantine counties if the destination of the shipment is a treatment facility, due to lack of treatment options in some quarantined areas. Meanwhile, shipments from the non-quarantine areas to Mexico are required to complete either a cold storage treatment, with the same time and temperature requirements as Texas, or a methyl bromide fumigation, which the Texas Department of Agriculture does not approve as a treatment option for pecan weevils.
In a discussion with Dr. Marvin Harris, a Texas A&M Entomologist, it was mentioned that the most effective way currently to deal with pecan weevils is cold storage. In a study completed by Dr. Harris, pecan weevils were unable to survive in -20 degrees Celsius, or -4 degrees Fahrenheit, for more than 30 hours. Dr. Harris’ research was used to establish the current standard practice for Texas pecan weevil cold storage treatment, -17.78 degrees Celsius for seven days. Dr. Luis Aguirre, a professor of Entomology at Autonomous Agricultural University Antonio Narro in Saltillo and former Director of Plant Health at SENASICA (Mexico’s counterpart to APHIS in the United States), shared that U.S. inshell pecans exported to Mexico are required to have the same cold storage treatment as those moving across quarantine zones in Texas. With both agencies certifying that this treatment eliminates the presence of pecan weevils, regardless of origin, there should not be any weevil infestation risk from U.S. inshell pecans to Mexico if they have successfully completed a cold storage treatment.
Overall, there is a significant demand for pecans globally and domestically. Texas benefits from being one of the leading growers across the country, with steady exports to Mexico, Canada, China, and the European Union. U.S. pecan exporters face competition growing export volume with China, India, Senegal, and Argentina also vying to expand in the major importing markets, but the biggest challenge exporters have discussed is the ongoing pecan weevil quarantine with Mexico. Even with the quarantine in place, Mexico has been one of the leading destinations for U.S. pecans, both inshell and shelled. With scientific researchers on both sides of the border agreeing that cold storage is an effective strategy for killing weevils, working to lower the barriers currently in place to trade could prove mutually beneficial for growers in the United States, shellers across the border, and consumers globally.