China's affinity for U.S. pecans is a double-edged sword.

Grower prices have climbed, but so, too, have the prices that U.S. consumers have had to pay.

China has increased imports of U.S. pecans to 80 million pounds in 2009 from just 2.9 million pounds in 2005, according to a news release.

To put that in perspective, China's purchases could gobble up Texas' entire pecan crop during a good year.

At the same time, grower prices moved to $2.65 per pound in 2011 compared with less than $1 per pound in the late 1990s.

Pecans are alternate bearing, producing a heavy crop one year and a light one the following.

U.S. pecan production fluctuates between 200 million and 300 million pounds annually.

The National Pecan Shellers Association puts the 2012 crop at 287 million pounds.

Monte Nesbitt, a Texas AgriLife Extension agricultural economist, credited a trade mission of U.S. pecan growers to China for creating the love-affair with the nut.

China already liked the native hickory nut, but its hard shell is difficult to crack and the kernels break into small pieces.

Enter the pecan, which is easier to crack and yields nice, large kernels.

In addition to the ease of cracking, China has seen growth of the middle class, who seek Western food items.

In addition to China, domestic health studies also fueled demand for pecans from consumers seeking heart-healthy snacks and foods.

U.S. pecan growers are planting new orchards to try to meet the demand.