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Chinese Taste for Pecans Raises Price in US

Shelled pecans are shown at the Navarro Pecan Company in Corsicana, Texas, Friday, Nov. 21, 2008.

A holiday tradition in many parts of the United States will cost more than it has in many years this holiday season. It is pecan pie.

Listen to Ira Mellman's interview with Jeff Worn.

It seems as though the Chinese have taken a huge liking to the uniquely American tree nut that is the main ingredient of the treat.

China has taken so much of the U.S. production of pecans that it has driven up the price here, and that has many, including some pecan producers, worried.

Jeff Worn, the Vice President of the South Georgia Pecan Company in Valdosta, Georgia, one of the largest pecan producers in the world, says the Chinese bought about 31 to 36 million kilograms last year, a third of the entire U.S. pecan crop last year. He says that has raised the price of pecans precipitously.

"[Pecan prices are] higher than they've ever been", said Worn. "In [20]09, you were looking at pecans for sale in supermarkets in the U.S. at $7 [per pound], $9 last year. This year, they're selling at $11 a pound."

Worn says the health benefits of pecans have lead to their recent popularity. "The reason for its popularity is the health benefits they provide," more, he said, than the most popular tree nut in China, the walnut.

As far as the traditional holiday pecan pie in the United States, Worn says there is talk of price hikes from 20 to 25 percent due to the price hikes.

Worn says the price increases for pecans is of great concern to pecan producers. "It's something that we really have to take into account," said Worn. "Between 85 to 90 percent of our business is based on domestic sales". And he asks "How much are people going to continue to pay for pecans?" Worn adds "It can definitely be a scary thing to look at."