Pecan industry seeking ways to grow in value


Since the 1960s, the pecan industry in South Carolina and the rest of the nation has not marketed as well as its competition.

In terms of flavor and nutritional quality, pecans rank highly.

Mike Adams is president of the American Pecan Board.

Mark Arena is a senior Clemson Extension agent who is an expert on pecans.

PELION – Pecans have an image problem. It’s not about flavor, nutrition or plate appeal. Instead, it’s about lack of visibility.

Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are blowing pecans away in public awareness. The savvy trio is backed by massive marketing machines that spend tens of millions of dollars to spread the word in imaginative – yet brutally effective – fashion.

Pecans… well …

“Right now we’re flapping in the breeze,” said Mike Adams during a recent conference at the Center for Advanced Agribusiness Research at Pelion High School.

“In 1963, the pecan crop was 365 million pounds worldwide. Last year, it was 273 million. In comparison, almonds produced 162 million pounds back then and now produce 2 billion. Pecan growers are getting their tails kicked in the marketplace. I’d like to see that change.”

Adams, owner of Royalty Pecan Farms in Caldwell, Texas, is president of the American Pecan Board, a self-supported group of growers, shellers and accumulators that represents all 15 states that grow pecans: South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama in the East region; Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri in the central region; and New Mexico, Arizona and California in the West region.

The board has been pushing the industry to step out of its rut and take a more active role in marketing. Since January 2014, Adams has appeared before numerous groups to talk about forming a federal marketing order that would galvanize the industry and garner the funds necessary to promote pecans on a much grander scale.

Mike Adams is president of the American Pecan Board.

“Our commodity does not take a back seat to anybody,” said Adams. “It’s healthier, chefs love its diversity, and the world – especially China and India – has developed a passion for pecans. But we’re literally not in the marketing game. A federal marketing order will get us in the game and will contribute millions of dollars to our industry. This will help everybody, from the smallest grower to the largest.”

In January, the board members met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss the specifics of forming a federal marketing order, a concept that was created under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.

Due to the pecan board’s recent diligence, there will be a referendum among pecan growers in 2016 to decide if they want to create the American Pecan Council to represent the industry.

If the referendum passes, a nomination process will be followed by an election to choose who will serve on the council’s board, which could be in place in time for the 2017 growing season. Assessments collected by the council would raise as much as $8 million the first year, most of which would be spent on publicizing the virtues of pecans to a nation and world swarming with health-conscious consumers.

“A comprehensive marketing strategy will increase the demand,” Adams told the roomful of commercial pecan growers who gathered in Pelion. “There will be more consumers eating our products, and the biggest increase will come in our domestic market. Our competition has full-time professional staffs that look out for their interests every day. The pecan industry has no one to look out for us. This puts us at a big disadvantage. The time is now to take control of our future.”

Mark Arena, a senior Clemson Extension agent, also spoke at the conference.

“Marketing is the key to any business,” said Arena, a pecan specialist. “I’ve worked with several farmers throughout the year and I’ve told them it’s not about whether you can grow the product; it’s about whether you can sell it. Fortune 500 companies spend more than 40 percent of their budgets on marketing. So that gives you an idea what the top players are doing. Producing food is needed in the world. So why not do everything possible to market it?”

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