Andy Nelson, markets editor
Andy Nelson, markets editor

About four years ago, Mike Adams, president of the organization that would become the American Pecan Board, and fellow industry leaders began kicking around the idea of bringing more order to the U.S. pecan industry.

As part of that process, Adams flew to Fresno, Calif., to meet with Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers.

Matoian asked Adams to describe the organizational structure of the pecan industry.

Adams told him about his own organization, then about another, similar group — the National Pecan Growers Council.

There was more — quite a bit more. Adams told Matoian about another national association devoted to pecan shellers.

And about state boards in Georgia and Texas. And 14 state growers’ associations.

“He grinned,” Adams said. “And I said, ‘You recognize our issue.’”

Namely, the pecan industry — 15 states stretching from the Carolinas to California — didn’t speak with a single voice. And the need to speak with a single voice had become more and more important as the industry evolved, Adams said.

That’s largely thanks to China, Adams said. A decade ago, China was barely a market for U.S. pecans. By 2012, China was gobbling up one-third of all U.S. pecans.

“We’re not adjusting as quickly as what’s happening to us,” Adams said. “We haven’t had a single entity representing the pecan industry.”

When industry members first started meeting four years ago, a marketing order was by no means a guarantee, Adams said.

Leaders like Adam were careful to pitch their effort as an organic one that would grow out of the suggestions of all industry members.

Once leaders sensed that pecan growers, handlers and others were enthusiastic about doing something, things kicked into high gear, Adams said.

In May 2013, to show its new focus, Adams’ group changed its name from the U.S. Pecan Council to the American Pecan Board.

Six months later, in November 2013, board members sat down with USDA staff to talk about options: a marketing order, checkoff program, vendor model or volunteer program.

“We came away with a consensus that a marketing order was what was recommended,” Adams said. “It’s more flexible in its provisions. A checkoff is kind of a one-size-fits-all.”

Meanwhile, over the past six months, the board has traveled the country listening to industry members from different regions talk about what they wanted in a marketing order.

Once it’s gathered all the information it can, the board will pow-wow once again with USDA to hammer out the details of a proposed marketing order, which would then come to a vote of industry members.

Adams likes the odds.

“I think our industry is sitting on huge potential that is just unrealized. Almonds and pistachios have done it, and it just makes sense for pecans to do the same thing. We’re not reinventing the wheel.”

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