“Our export goal is to position pecans as the premium nut,” Ditmore said. “We will introduce the pecan in India as the royal American cousin to the walnut.”

India is very conservative and developing this new market will take time. The key, Ditmore says, is learning the culture and how current nut varieties are utilized in the diet. Other countries targeted for U.S. pecan exports include South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and others.

Expanding U.S. farm exports comes with a litany of challenges including market development funding, trade barriers, embargoes, high tariffs, and diplomatic issues. The current tariff in India is about 50 percent; about 36 percent in China. Some countries lack a “cold chain” - facilities to keep food cold. Refrigeration helps maintain the quality and taste of pecans.

“The real goal is to become the globally-preferred nut over walnuts, almonds, hazel nuts, and hickory nuts,” Ditmore said.

In the past, leaders in U.S. pecan-producing states marketed their own state’s pecans hoping to gain a foothold worldwide for their respective industries. This began to change earlier this year with the formation of US Pecans, the new export arm of the National Pecan Growers Council (NPGC). The idea is the generic promotion of U.S. pecans from all pecan-producing states.

“There is consensus within the U.S. pecan industry for this national organization to advance pecan marketing and access related research dollars,” NPGC President Phillip Arnold told the crowd.

This merger of efforts opens the door to more potential export funding from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). The FAS funding requirement mandates generic promotion; marketing U.S. pecans as a whole versus state-specific pecan promotion by Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and the other pecan-producing states.

Arnold and Ditmore said US Pecans has qualified for $350,000 in FSA funds for 2011; $200,000 from the agency’s market access program and $125,000 from its emerging markets program. US Pecans has successfully raised the required matching contribution to receive the FSA funds, and is poised to request additional funding in 2012.

“I have been in the pecan industry for 28 years and I am more enthusiastic than ever before,” Arnold said. “I see more interest within each segment of the industry wanting to come together for the common benefit of everyone. We are creating a demand for pecans worldwide which will benefit everyone. We need to expand world markets for profitability in the U.S. pecan industry.”

Initial discussions by lawmakers on the 2012 farm bill have included some red flags, including potential cuts in MAP program funding due to federal budget cuts which could jeopardize the future promotion of pecans and other commodities.

“MAP funding (for pecans) is there for 2012 but as the new farm bill approaches future funding is a concern,” Arnold said. He hopes future funding will remain intact since the Obama administration has pledged a commitment to increase U.S. exports by 100 percent over the next five years.

Increased pecan production is necessary to provide the pecans needed for expanded worldwide demand, Arnold says. New pecan plantings are underway across the U.S. and in Mexico.

“There are many juvenile orchards,” Arnold said. “The pecan supply will increase dramatically in the next 10 to 15 years.” 

cblake@farmpress.com