In the last decade, China's pecan cultivation areas have remarkably increased. By 2022, areas had expanded to an enormous 85,000 hectares (ha), according to USDA estimates, bringing them closer in size to the pecan areas in the US (165,000 ha) and Mexico (145,000 ha). China even surpassed South Africa, where the estimated planted area is around 40,000 ha.
Because the majority of these trees were planted only within the last 15 years, China's pecan production has been fairly low and was only 4,500 mt (in-shell) in 2022 – well behind Mexico’s 145,000 mt, the US’ 138,000 mt, and South Africa’s 32,000 mt. However, the industry is off to a promising start, and in provinces like Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and others, several orchards already produced approximately 200-400 kg/ha. As more trees begin to bear nuts and existing trees reach maturity, it is expected that pecan production in China will boom in the coming years. Pecans often take up to 5 years to start yielding nuts and up to 13 to 15 years to reach mature yields.
Based on historical planting data, benchmark yields from other countries provide insights into future pecan production in China. US pecan yields averaged 735kg/ha over the last five years, based on the area already bearing nuts. The mature benchmark yields used in the University of Georgia pecan production budgets are 1,345 kg/ha under medium input production techniques and 1,681 kg/ha under high inputs. As projected by the South African Pecan Nut Producers Association (SAPPA), benchmark mature yields in South Africa range from 2,500 kg/ha for modern cultivars under modern production techniques, to 1,200 kg/ha under more extensive production.
Applying these reference yields to China’s historical pecan areas and assuming trees planted after 2022 will not bear nuts in the first 5 years give a projection for possible pecan production in China. Based on low-yield projections, production could reach 23,186 mt by 2028. The projection increases to 34,789 mt with mid-range yields and under high-yield scenarios, production could reach 47,064 mt.
Source: Tridge, USDA, INC
While it is almost certain production will increase over the next 15 years, the industry faces several challenges. The pecan industry is still in its infancy, leading to inexperience in pest and disease control, pruning trees in the optimal shape, fertilization practices, and appropriate planting techniques. China has several varieties of pecans available, but there isn’t a tried and tested variety for the fragmented production across China. The industry also suffers from low levels of mechanization and in some cases, poor post-harvest management.
While producers have to overcome several obstacles, the Chinese pecan industry has a promising future. In recent years, China was the world’s largest pecan importer, with annual imports of close to 50,000 mt (in-shell) over the last 4 years. Pecans, among other nuts, have benefited from a strong “daily nuts” marketing campaign, where mixed nuts are sold as a healthy daily snack. Domestic demand is expected to continue growing as pecans products are diversified. There is also an increased focus on healthy eating among Chinese end consumers, adding to the demand for pecans. However, domestically produced pecans face difficulties competing with the already well-established supply chains for imported pecans. But as domestic production increases, it will lead to a subsequent improvement of supply chains.