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Don't get your hopes up for pecan pie this Thanksgiving

AP • Nov 27, 2013 at 4:49 PM

OCILLA, Ga. — It is a

meager holiday in the pecan groves of the South, and the pain is

stretching to kitchens across the country.

A rare collision of

ill-timed rain, marauding animals and a growing love affair between the

Chinese middle class and the pecan has resulted in the worst pecan

supply in recent memory. As a result, grocery store prices are up by

about 30 percent, which is causing Thanksgiving bakers to think twice

about their menus.

“It’s like the world doesn’t want us to make pralines,” said Anna Butler, 24, a Texas native who lives in New York.


has a ticket home to Texas for the holiday, so she and her New York

friends celebrated an early Thanksgiving last weekend. She had planned

to show off her Texan roots with a black-bottom pecan pie. But at her

favorite market, a pound of shelled pecans cost $15.99.

“That’s a real investment in a pie right there,” she said.

Too much, in fact. She brought a dish of cauliflower, macaroni and cheese instead.


2012, the nation’s pecan orchards produced about 302 million pounds of

pecans. This year, that number could drop by as much as 35 percent,

according to industry officials. In Georgia, the nation’s leading

pecan-producing state, the crop is expected to be about half of what it

was last year. In South Carolina, some orchards succumbed completely.


problem began last spring and summer with record rainfall. Pollination

became difficult, and the moisture encouraged disease. Pecan growers

sprayed their fields in record amounts, but it wasn’t enough to fight

off a disease called scab.

In Texas and Oklahoma, it was a summer

drought that hurt the trees. Then came autumn’s heavy rain, which made

the ground too wet to hold the heavy equipment that shakes nuts from

trees and sweeps them up.

As a result, harvesting was sporadic,

and the pecan supply was left wide open for feral pigs, which have

become quite a problem in Texas, and for squirrels, which are always

looking for a free nut.

“The crop faced a lot of wildlife

pressure,” said Blair Krebs, associate director of sales and marketing

at the Texas Pecan Growers Association.

The bad nut crop has a few

other causes, one of which is the cyclical nature of pecans: Typically,

if one year is good, the next year is not.

Last year, for

example, Texas produced about 65 million pounds of pecans, said Larry

Stein, a professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University. Most

estimates indicate that this year will bring no more than 35 million


Then, there is China.

In the mid-2000s, the market

for pecans in China began to grow rapidly. China now consumes more than a

third of the U.S. pecan crop, a development that followed the country’s

inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001.

“Before that,

they didn’t know what a pecan was,” said Randy Hudson, the owner of

Hudson Pecan Company here in Ocilla and a vice president of the National

Pecan Growers Council.

Chinese shoppers prefer big varieties with thin shells, with names like Desirables and Stuarts.

“The ones that are real pretty on top of a pecan pie? Most of those have gone to export,” Krebs said.

While that isn’t good news

for American bakers, it has alleviated the pain for many farmers.

Although the crop is small this year, the price is well over $3 a pound

at the wholesale level.

Still, that has not helped the

neighborhood pickers in the Deep South who collect so-called yard nuts

from the pecan trees that grow in backyards from Atlanta to rural Texas.


a fall ritual, people scoop them up and bring sacks to shelling stands

along the road. In many rural regions, “We buy pecans” signs aren’t hard

to find.

But backyard pecan trees and small orchards are not usually sprayed regularly enough to ward off disease.


use yard nuts to pay their property taxes,” said Scott Hudson, Hudson’s

son and vice president of the family company. “But not this year.”


great pecan crisis of 2013 is playing out differently in different

regions. Parts of New Mexico might have a good crop of high-quality

nuts. And some parts of the country just don’t care as much about making

a pecan pie for Thanksgiving.

Nationally, there were more than twice as many searches for pumpkin pie as for pecan pie, a Google spokeswoman said.