Written by David Mann
Albany, Ga – Larry Willson of Sunnyland Farms told the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on February 18 that Chinese production of walnuts plummeted in the mid-2000s and resulted in that country starting to import pecans from the U.S., which drove up the price.Although pecans are shipped to China in the shell, very little mechanized cracking exists there, said Willson. The nuts are mostly hand-cracked and soaked in a brine solution, resulting in a dark, greenish nut meat that doesn’t look very appetizing, according to Willson, but “they love them.” They’re especially popular during the Chinese New Year, he added.
In 2009, according to figures presented by Willson, the U.S. pecan crop totaled 302 million pounds. Of that, 28 percent went to domestic consumption, 27 percent to China/Hong Kong/Vietnam, and the remaining 45 percent to other countries. He contrasted that with 2003, when 27 percent of the U.S. crop of 282 million pounds was domestically consumed, 72.7 percent went to other countries, and only .3 percent was shipped to China.
Willson also revealed the results of a 2012 survey of pecan growers in the state. There were 146 respondents who reported a total of 102,784 trees, with 89 percent planted to new acreage, for a total of 5,823 new acres; and 1,778 acres of abandoned orchards were brought back into production.
He explained further that increased production is being brought about through new plantings, including bare-root trees and transplanting, as well as refurbishing old orchards by thinning and replanting, or hedging, a relatively concept that Willson said keeps trees to a manageable size and allows for better pest-spray coverage and increased access to sunlight. Fruit-thinning in off years also reduces stress on trees.
The National Pecan Growers Association offers a “Top Five Reasons to Eat Pecans for Your Next Snack”:
- They taste good – offering a buttery-sweet bite with a gentle crunch, perfect for kids and adults.
- Pecans contain more antioxidants than any other nut variety (check out the stats at OTACValues.com).
- Pecans help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (for a video on the latest research check out the NPGA home page).
- A one-ounce serving (15-20 pecan halves) packs more than 19 vitamins and minerals and 10 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber.
- Pecans are a natural, high-quality source of protein and naturally sodium-free.
In addition to state and national pecan-growers organizations, Willson has also served on numerous local boards, including the Phoebe Foundation and the Albany YMCA. He joined Sunnyland Farms, Inc., the family business on the Moultrie Highway founded by his father Harry Willson, in 1978.