A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going down to Savannah, Georgia, for the National Pecan Shellers spring meeting. It was a lot of fun, and it was also very informative. The one thing that has always struck me about this small (in comparison to other tree nuts) industry is that the majority of the people in attendance, as I, have grown up in the business of pecans. Pecans, like country music, truly are as Hank Jr. would say, “A Family Tradition.”
Also, like the country music industry, the pecan industry is changing. Some of the changes are great. The processing of pecans has certainly come a long way. What used to take a week or so, is now done in a day’s time. Gone are the days when families would sit by the radio in the evenings and shell pecans. This is the way my grandfather shelled pecans for our company back in the early Twenties. He would take pecans around to the different houses and leave them a sack of nuts. Then, he would go back and pick up the shelled nuts. However, for small shellers like my family (a little over a million pounds of pecans shelled this past season), those changes are coming with considerable cost. I was really touched by the passion in the voices and struck also by the sadness of those, like us, who feel like we no longer have a voice or a “dog” left in the fight. Why? Because like my dad and uncle who own our company, it is all they have ever known, and the changes ahead can’t help but have an impact on our family’s business and theirs.
Let’s be honest. America was founded by those who dared to dream of a better life- those men and women who did not sit ideally by and let their futures be dictated by the monarchy of their motherland. However, to me, and granted I am no business genius (don’t pretend to be) or economist, I feel like that is exactly what is happening to the small, family pecan processors and their companies. Our voices have been quieted. Now, there are lots of arguments both for and against these changes. And, I am not so closed minded to not see that lots of people will perhaps benefit from the changes (at least that is of what many are trying to convince themselves) . However again, at what cost. And let us not forget China’s involvement. I am thrilled that the Chinese have discovered and enjoy consuming pecans, but that one variable is huge. Cause no business degree or not, I understand the very basic of any business- supply and demand. This has caused in-shell pecan prices to soar, and has left the “little guy” plenty sore! Enough of all that business stuff. It is depressing.
There are many families that my parents and uncle and aunt have grown very close to from this association. These are the kind of friends that you may only see once or twice a year, but when you do get together, it is like no time has passed. These friends who come from different parts of the country. The kind of friend that you would call for help if need be, and they would be willing to do what they could to help you. (and they have) To me, that is the greatest gift of this business and other small family businesses. The stories they can tell, and do. They are priceless. You wouldn’t believe them unless you heard them first hand. It is my hope that the stories will continue, and that maybe one day my children, nieces, nephews, or cousins will be a part of the new stories and that the pecan industry will continue to be a “Family Tradition.”