One of the largest pecan producers in the Southeast believes the industry could be on the verge of collapse amid tariffs, a strong hurricane season and devastatingly low prices this year.
Eric Cohen, who along with brother, Rob, operates Pecan Ridge Plantation in Bainbridge, Georgia, said they are still recovering from Hurricane Michael’s impact in 2018. It wiped out 800 acres and more than 20,000 trees. What he’s concerned with the most now are tariffs that prevent the largest buyer of U.S. pecans, China, from buying this year. It’s also allowed Mexico to become an even bigger player on the world’s pecan stage than it was before.
A Pecan Producer’s Comments
“I think our industry, honestly, is on the brink of collapse if something doesn’t actually change,” Cohen said. “We’ve got all these pecans coming in from Mexico. The tariff situation is absolutely killing us because they don’t have a tariff on their pecans. China can buy all of their pecans from them.
“Mexico, their labor is so much different than ours. We’re getting drilled on everything; labor, their inputs are so much cheaper. We just can’t grow them as cheap as they can, and they’re just flooding our market. It’s an extremely dark time in the pecan industry in Georgia after Hurricane Michael. Now we have extremely low prices.”
Low Prices Continue
The USDA Pecan Report was released on Tuesday and continues to show prices dropping for all pecan varieties.
The report states, “Growers are still putting pecans into cold storage while prices for export quality and retail gift shop purchases are low as many are purchasing pecans from other sources. Domestic shellers are busy this week and growers are sending in their B grade pecans to make room for their better quality nuts to be stored. Talk of export buyers coming in as they have in the past is still ongoing but they are not as active as was expected.”
Prices for Desirable varieties remain between $0.80 and $1 per pound, while Sumner varieties are selling between $0.70 and $0.80 cents per pound. It’s depressing news as growers are storing pecans in hopes of prices rebounding in the future.
“I never dreamed it would be this bad,” Cohen said. “If China would buy. If they would just come in the market and take some of this off, they would create some competition. China being out of our market is what’s going on.
“If we could get the tariff situation settled, whatever administration is in there that would be an absolute benefit to growers. I firmly believe that China wants to buy American Georgia pecans. The economics are just not there the way they are now.”
Alabama Farmers Suffer Through Storms
While Georgia producers have dodged storms this season, their Alabama counterparts were not so lucky. Alabama producer Adam Bertolla lost three-quarters of this year’s crop and 250 trees, or one-third of his pecan operation after Hurricane Sally struck in mid-September.
“We’re losing money. Growers out here, we’re absolutely losing money on the farm this year. You’ve got to make up your mind, ‘Are you willing to hang on and stick it out?’ If we were Louisiana, I know Alabama got destroyed this year. But look at Louisiana, I think they’ve had five storms. You take those five storms and run them through Georgia, we’re done.”