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Pecan Shortage Hits For Holiday

Pecans are a Thanksgiving holiday favorite that's in short supply this year. (Renee Ittner-Mcmanus / The State)
Pecans are a Thanksgiving holiday favorite that's in short supply this year. (Renee Ittner-Mcmanus / The State)
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Pecan pie lovers take note: Expect to pay more for your favorite this Thanksgiving thanks to drought in high-producing states like New Mexico, coupled with big demand from China.

And it’s not just that pecan pie that’s going to cost more.

The price for nearly everything from cranberries to pumpkin pie is up. But the biggest hike is for the main course: A 16-pound turkey costs 4 percent more this year at $21.57.

The American Farm Bureau Federation reported Thursday that a meal with turkey and all the trimmings will cost about 13 percent more this holiday. It estimates that the average cost to make a meal for 10 people is $49.20 — up $5.73 from last year.

The average retail price for a pound of pecans rose from $7 in 2008 to $9 last year, and it’s expected to be about $11 this year, said Jeff Worn, vice president of South Georgia Pecan Co., which processes 40 million to 50 million pounds of pecans a year in Valdosta, Ga. The price increase has some in the industry worried that people will stop buying the nuts.

“In an already suffering economy, how long will people be able to pay that much for pecans?” asked Worn, whose customers include big-box stores Sam’s Club and Costco, and food manufacturers such as Russell Stover and Sara Lee.

Pecans are the only major tree nut native to the U.S., which produces about 80 percent of the world’s crop. Top producing states are Georgia, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Drought dramatically reduced the crop in many states, including New Mexico, where the harvest begins about Thanksgiving.

Garfield, N.M., farmer Edmund Ogaz said that, so far, his crop appears to be smaller.

“It looks like it’s going to be a little less than last year,” said Ogaz, who has harvested pecans for about seven years. “I don’t know by how much. I’m just going by sight.”

The federal government’s forecast late last month predicted New Mexico’s harvest would be 56 million in-shell pounds, down about 10 million pounds — a roughly 15 percent decrease from last year. Doña Ana County is the state’s major producer, following by Chaves, Eddy, Otero, Luna and Sierra counties.

The entire U.S. crop is expected to be less than 252 million pounds this year, roughly 14 percent smaller than last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A bigger reason for high pecan prices is strong demand from Asia. China typically buys a fifth of the U.S. crop.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture said the market for pecans in China was essentially nonexistent about 10 years ago, but pecans have become a delicacy that are used in that country’s New Year celebration, usually lasting about two weeks in January and February.

Pecans are “just a small luxury. It’s a comfort item. And of course,” Worn said, hopefully, “Thanksgiving and all, they’d be a staple they’ll have to have.”

In general, it’s going to cost more for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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