Revised January 2021
Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) are native to North America. There are two types of pecans produced within the United States: native or seedling, and improved varieties. The entire 2014 U.S. pecan crop totaled 264.2 million pounds or 132,075 tons, less than a 1 percent decrease from 2013 and 2012. The value of the 2014 pecan crop was $517 million, an increase of 12 percent from 2013. Commercial pecan production was reported in 14 states. Over three-fourths of U.S. pecans were produced in the states of Georgia, New Mexico and Texas (NASS, 2021).
Currently the pecan industry is working to establish a Federal Marketing Order (FMO) to successfully compete with the production of other tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pistachios (all of which have their own successful FMOs
The main marketing season for pecans is from the beginning of October to the end of March. However, growers have been able to extend the marketing season by using proper storage methods, such as cold storage. In 2014, average wholesale pecan prices were $1.96 per pound, up 13 percent from 2013. Farmers sold 54 million pounds of in-shell pecans and 210 million pounds of shelled pecans (NASS, 2021) (NMSU – Cooperative Extension, 2017).
Farmers have many different options when selling their pecans. Farmers can sell their pecans in-shell or shelled. They also can sell straight to consumers through farmers’ markets and online websites for retail prices or to accumulators, wholesalers and shellers for wholesale prices. Farmers shelling their pecans prior to selling must keep in mind the costs for shelling equipment and additional labor (NMSU – Cooperative Extension, 2017).
Buyers are mainly concerned with the price they can receive for the pecan nutmeat. For this reason it is extremely important for farmers to know the shell-out percentage of their pecans to receive the greatest value for their crop. The shell-out percentage is the amount of nutmeat yield in relation to the weight of the entire pecan (NMSU - Cooperative Extension, 2017) (NMSU – Cooperative Extension, 2017).
Shellers not only sell pecan nutmeat, but also pecan shells for use in products such as particleboard and landscape mulches. Farmers who shell their own pecans could add value to their crop by selling the shells in this same manner (NMSU – Cooperative Extension, 2017).
Pecan nutmeat can be used in a variety of ways. Fresh pecans have a slight buttery taste and are an extremely healthy snack on their own or can be added to meals. Fresh pecans are said to have the highest antioxidant content of all tree nuts (NPSA, 2021). Shelled pecans are often processed further. Bakers and confectioners are the largest buyers of shelled pecans, using pecans in cakes, pies, pralines and brittles. Farmers who shell their own pecans could add value by selling to local bakeries and restaurants (NMSU – Cooperative Extension, 2017).
Pecans were produced on 413,000 acres in 2020, up 5% from 2019. 265 million pounds were sold shelled and 40.1 million pounds were sold in shell, resulting in a total production of 305.1 million pounds. The value of the crop totaled $435 million, down 8% from 2019. (NASS 2021)
In 2020, New Mexico led the nation in pecan production, with production for all pecans (improved varieties and native and seedling) reaching 87.8 million pounds, followed by Georgia at 73 million pounds, Texas at 37.5 million pounds, and Arizona at 36.1 million pounds. (NASS, 2021).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
U.S. pecan exports were valued at $446.3 million in 2014, up 28 percent from 2013. Hong Kong remained the primary destination for U.S. in-shell pecan exports, with sales reaching $118 million, a 5 percent increase from 2013. Vietnam was the second largest in-shell pecan market, purchasing pecans valued at nearly $87.6 million, a whopping 170 percent increase. Mexican purchases increased 42 percent, reaching $43.8 million (FAS, 2021).
From 2013 to 2014, Canada remained the largest market for shelled pecans, buying pecans valued at $45.9 million, an increase of 2 percent. The Netherlands was the second largest market for shelled pecans, buying pecans valued at $30.7 million, a 19 percent increase. The United Kingdom was also a significant buyer of shelled pecans; it bought pecans valued at $24.9 million, a 13 percent increase (FAS, 2021).
In 2014, the United States imported pecans valued at $370.6 million, up 52 percent from 2013. Mexico remained the dominant supplier, providing shelled pecans, in-shell pecans and prepared or preserved pecans valued at $366.3 million (FAS, 2021).
Of tree nut consumption in the United States, pecans rank third behind almonds and English walnuts. Interestingly, pecan per capita consumption has held nearly constant over the past several decades, ranging from 0.3 pounds to 0.6 pounds. In 2013 per capita consumption of pecans was 0.3 pounds (ERS, 2021).
One of the most important aspects to consider when establishing a pecan orchard is its size. The mechanical equipment needed for a 10-acre orchard is the same for a 100-200 acre orchard. Smaller orchards often have reduced profitability due to equipment costs (Texas A&M – AgriLife Extension, 2013).
It’s also best to understand some of the limiting factors that contribute to nut production.
After their initial planting, pecan trees can take anywhere from five to 10 years before producing nuts (University of Florida – IFAS Extension, 2012). Another characteristic of pecan trees is alternate bearing (AB), meaning the plant will produce a heavy crop one year and a light crop the next year. AB is internally regulated by the plant, but can be triggered by poor management practices, which often depletes the tree’s energy reserves. For a commercial pecan orchard to be successful, it is recommended to strive for a consistent moderate crop on a yearly basis. There are a handful of management practices that will help ensure a profitable commercial pecan orchard. Thoughtful selection of cultivars or varieties, proper irrigation and fertilization, crop load management and integrated pest management strategies, adequate sunlight and tree spacing, selecting compatible varieties for pollination, and leaf retention are all important management practices. Once properly established a pecan orchard can stay in production for more than 50 years (University of Georgia – Cooperative Extension, 2020) (University of Florida – IFAS Extension, 2012).
Helpful enterprise budgets for pecans:
- 2005 - Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Pecans in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, University of California Cooperative Extension, 2005.
- Pecan - 2010 Fruit and Nut Planning Budgets, Mississippi State University, Department of Agricultural Economics, 2010.
Cultural Management of Commercial Pecan Orchards, University of Georgia – Cooperative Extension, 2020.
Global Agricultural Trade System Online (GATS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA, 2020.
Improved Pecans, Texas A&M – AgriLife Extension, 2013.
Marketing Pecans, New Mexico State University – Cooperative Extension, 2017.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2021.
Pecan Federal Marketing Order (FMO), American Pecan Board, 2021.
Pecan Marketing Channels in New Mexico, (NMSU) New Mexico State University – Cooperative Extension, 2017.
Pecan Prices and Grades, New Mexico State University – Cooperative Extension, 2017.
Storing Pecans, New Mexico State University – Cooperative Extension, 2021.
Table-A1: Fruit and tree nut per capita, U.S., ERS, USDA, 2021.
The Pecan Tree, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) – Extension, published 2004, revised 2012.