China tariffs keeping holiday pecan prices down

Duke Pecan employee Junior Gunn fills a bag with locally-purchased nuts at the company’s operation on Brame Avenue.
Staff Writer

When Hurricane Michael roared across the Florida Panhandle and into Georgia, the third strongest hurricane on record did an estimated $700 million in damage to as much as 50 percent of the Georgia pecan crop.

Damage that severe in one of the nation’s largest pecan-producing states normally would have a significant impact on pecan prices at the busiest time of year for demand.

But it’s not.

The reason, in part, is the growing trade war with China, which until this year, has been the biggest market for the nut.

“It’s been the most interesting situation we’ve seen in a while. You feel terrible about what has happened in Georgia with the damage there. Some of those trees had been around generations. You’d think with all the damage, it would change the market and the price, forcing prices up because of lower supply. It hasn’t,” explained Bill Duke, president of West Point-based Duke Pecan.

“The market is actually lower than it has been. It’s because of the tariffs, it’s killed the demand from China. The price is actually down from where it was at this time last year. I’ve been watching the exports and we’re hardly shipping anything to China,” he added, noting China has imposed 47 percent tariffs on U.S. pecans in retaliation of U.S tariffs on Chinese imports.

“With that kind of tariff, they are hardly buying any nuts. Domestic demand is the only thing driving the market right now and it can’t carry everything.

“It’s a shame what’s happened. The pecan industry and other nut industries like almonds have spent millions promoting their products in China and other Asian markets and then this. What’s taken years to build could go away in a moment,” Duke stated. “If this continues, China could find something else. I wish we weren’t making winners and losers with the tariffs.”

The Georgia crop came in earlier this year, as did the crop in North Mississippi. In fact, Duke Pecans bought some pecans early from Georgia and began selling them in the local market Nov. 3, just as the local harvest was beginning.

Last year, local pecans didn’t mature until mid-November of later.

Hurricane Michael not only destroyed trees but also littered orchards with debris when much of the nuts already were on the ground. Cleaning up the debris destroyed those nuts.

But because the huge China market is at bay, the shortage caused by the Georgia damage has not driven prices up.

“We’ve been getting our steady group of local people bringing in pecans. It’s been a good supply it seems,” said Duke, as a customer brought in several pounds late Friday afternoon.

“The nuts locally are plentiful around here and the prices are reasonable,” Duke said, laughing when a visitor suggested it was a good time to bake more pies for Thanksgiving, which is the biggest time of year for pecan sales, carrying on in to December and Christmas.