Pecan Production Worldwide
Using available data, Dr. Esteban Herrera, professor emeritus of NMSU, and Dr. Julio Lopez Diaz of University of Chihuahua share their observations on the future of pecan production.
The America Pecan Council has started a nationwide promotion of pecans aimed to increase pecan-nut awareness and consumption in the United States, which currently is about half-a-pound per person. This is a very important step since a good number of people living in big urban areas in the country know little about pecans so the potential for pecan consumption is enormous. This promotion is also important considering the increase of pecan plantings around the world.
So far, total pecan consumption has augmented thanks to a general population increase, not because of an increase in per-person intake, which has remained the same for several years.
Judging by pecan plantings worldwide, there’s no doubt pecan production will increase dramatically in the next decade.
Pecan acreage in the U.S. has been up and down in the last 15 years, mainly due to rainfall problems in the eastern states—not enough or too much. However, good pecan prices in the last decade have influenced many growers’ decision to plant or expand their pecan orchards, especially in Georgia and the western U.S. (see figures 1 & 2).
According to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Georgia and New Mexico as of 2016 had 120,000 and 40,000 acres of pecan trees planted, respectively. These two states rank as the top two pecan producers in the United States. Today, those numbers are much higher because more significant planting has occurred in the last five years including 2017.
Although the information from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture may be derived from the last U.S. census, it appears that for 2017 about 45,000 total acres for New Mexico is a better figure (Richard Hereema, Ph.D., 2018 personal communication). And the right amount for Georgia seems to be about 145,000 acres of established orchards plus 35,000 acres of young trees (Lenny Wells, Ph.D., 2018 personal communication).
Texas and Oklahoma have significant acreage (100,000 and 94,000 acres respectively) but their pecan production is substantially lower since their orchards depend on or are affected by rainfall.
Nevertheless, in a regular year, Georgia will produce over 100 million pounds (rain, or lack of it, will influence final crop), while New Mexico crop could be around 70 million. It will go up in the coming years.
It seems that Mexico is the elephant in the room due to its yearly increase in pecan plantings, which is estimated to be around 12,375 to 17,298 acres per year (figure 3). Right now, Mexico is the leader in the amount of new pecan acreage planted every year. Actually in 1999 when I took a sabbatical to investigate the pecan acreage in Mexico, pecan nurseries in the northern states were selling enough trees every year to plant 24,700 acres.
Pecan production and acreage in Mexico has been growing steadily for the last 15 years. Most pecan production takes place in the five northern states, especially in the state of Chihuahua which produces around 65 percent of Mexico’s pecan crop.
COMENUEZ, a Mexican pecan growers agency supported by Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), estimates that Mexico’s pecan production could reach around 330 million pounds by the year 2022 (Figure 6).
South Africa is the country, which according to pecan acreage and production, will fall in third place worldwide. However, there is no official data for pecans in this country and the available information shows different data for different sources. Nevertheless, there is accessible information which can give a good idea about South African pecan industry.
Most pecan acreage is established in the southern part of the country—Upington, Kimberly, and Bloemfontein—where climate conditions are similar to the western United States (figure 7). Also, some plantings are occurring in the eastern region, which is wetter and more humid.
In a presentation at the Western Pecan Growers Association’s conference in March 2017, Dries Duvenhage, a South African pecan farmer, indicated that from 2010 to 2015 around 1.8 million trees were planted and over 22,000 pounds produced in the last three years. He added that just in 2016 there were 490,000 trees planted or 9,800 acres at 30 by 30 feet spacing. Furthermore, he predicted that about 40,000 acres will be planted by 2022 with a potential crop estimate of 24,000 tons.
During the Texas Pecan Growers Association conference in July 2015, L.J. Grauke also presented on orchard growth. Grauke is a research horticulturist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In his presentation, he indicated that at that time there were 51,870 acres of nonbearing orchards and 14,820 acres of bearing orchards for a total of 66,690 acres already planted. Grauke added that by 2021 there will be 100,000 acres planted.
Last July, I was in Orania, South Africa teaching a short course about pecan orchard management, and my contacts told me there were 74,100 acres of pecans with 20,000 acres already in production. They estimated that South Africa is adding around 12,350 acres every year.
By 2018, South Africa expects to produce around 35.2 million pounds and to reach around 154 million pounds in 2022.
While Grauke’s and my numbers are similar, Dries considered that probably only 50 percent of the pecan trees were planted in “well-managed” new orchards. That concern had been shared with me by the previous president of the South African Pecan Producers Association (SAPPA). Considering that a good acreage of pecan plantings has been done in marginal land. Also, he indicated that there is competition with Macadamia plantings. South Africa had 98,800 acres planted in 2013 and plants about 2,470 acres every year.
Regardless of not knowing the real numbers for South Africa, it is expected that they will reach 100 million pounds of pecan production around 2022. In regards to the market nowadays, China is their main market. Also since they harvest in early June, they can market pecans at the end of a good-price, American harvest season or wait for a potential better market the following December.
In Argentina, they had started planting pecans in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, and Santa Fe, but land value went too high and pecan orchards are now being planted in the northwestern side around Catamarca Province (bordering with Chile) where about two big projects of pecan plantings are developing.
Currently, 14,826 to 17,297 acres of pecans are reported. It is estimated that about 2,470 acres are planted every year. In Provinces like Corrientes, growers have been planting some pecans so far tend to lean toward planting soybeans.
Pecan orchards in Brazil are found mainly in the southern part of the country (Porto Alegre). In 2017, it was reported that close to 5,000 acres existed with 80 percent of those being young trees (‘Barton’ is the main variety). Last year around 4,400 pounds were harvested.
Brazil may increase pecan acreage in the near future, but it will take some time to export some of their production, if ever since the potential for local consumption is tremendous.
Pecan orchards in Australia amount to about 3,458 acres. Dean “Sunny” Stahmann planted 2,000 acres in the 1960s, and no substantial increase in plantings has occurred since then. At the moment, there are no signs of significant pecan plantings in the future. Growers there have other good agricultural choices they could select from.
Israel, Peru, and Uruguay also have some pecan orchards. Peru and Israel do not have significant pecan acreage. Only Uruguay has been planting pecans in the last 10 years. It currently has around 6,600 acres most of them established orchards
Official information about 2017 pecan production in Mexico and U.S. is not available yet. However, COMENUEZ considerers a probable crop for Mexico to be about 252 million pounds for 2017, down from 312 million in 2016. This year may be low as well since there have been early freezes and hail in some Chihuahua orchards.
In the U.S., the estimate for 2017 was around 300 million pounds (TPGA conference, July 2017), which is up from 268 million pounds in 2016.
Therefore, by adding Mexico and U.S. production, we can see that the availability for pecan market in 2018 could be around 550 million pounds.
Exports to China and Vietnam reached over 90 million pounds this year, and no doubt will continue to increase. Actually, some Mexican pecan growers are selling their production to China as well (via Vietnam). Most of the production from Sonora is going to China, and they sell the rest directly to consumers in CDMEX.
I remember in 2007 when a good pecan crop was expected and pecan growers worried about low pecan prices; that year China bought around 27 million of pecans and helped to keep pecan prices at a good level. Since then, China’s imports have kept going up.
For 30 years, I’ve heard this question many times: “Are we planting too many pecan trees that prices are going to fall?” Even with this worry, the pecan market has continued to be more than adequate, especially these last 10 years.
Exports have probably helped to diminish the threat of having too many pecans in the market. However, I have the feeling that per capita pecan consumption is higher than the official number of half-a-pound per person.
But if growers are still worried that too many pecans may be produced, don’t fear. The promotion of pecans nationwide thanks to the recent federal marketing order will definitely positively impact pecan consumption.
Just to have an idea about the enormous potential for marketing pecans in the USA. The population in the states of New York and Illinois is over 32 million; population in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles each surpasses 5 million. The potential for growth is enormous.
So, could pecan prices be negatively affected by too many pecans in the market? I do not think so.
As I mentioned before, the official per capita consumption will definitely increase thanks to the nationwide promotion.
In regards to Mexico, I have talked to various pecan growers there who are leaders in various pecan grower associations. They understand the importance of promoting pecan consumption and are doing it in Mexico. But they also understand the significance of supporting the marketing order for pecans in the U.S. In order for the leaders of the Mexico grower associations to fully engage, I would suggest the American Pecan Council continue their efforts working with known pecan buyers who bring in pecans from Mexico to the U.S., identify other U.S. entities, brokers/agents, etc. who buy pecans from Mexico, and work together with the various grower associations in Mexico.
Whatever way is decided, the growth in pecan consumption in the U.S. can only benefit the entire industry worldwide.