11/28/10 — Pecans start slow, pick up

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Pecans start slow, pick up

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 28, 2010 1:50 AM

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Paulina Calderon, Ana Cecilia Diaz, Tom Britt, owner of Carolina Nut Cracker, and Brisy Perez clean cracked shells out of pecans on the inspection line at the plant.

The holidays are here and that means all sorts of pies, cakes, candies and cheeseballs oozing with mounds of tasty pecans.

But the weather and a shortage of pecans have delayed pecan processing this year. Not to worry, though, there will still be enough pecans for all those holiday treats -- just a little later than usual, said Jody Britt, owner of Carolina Nut Cracker, the largest pecan processor in the state.

The pecan season usually runs from October through mid-May or the first of June.

To start off the season, Carolina Nut Cracker normally gets its pecans from Georgia.

"This year the crop in Georgia's been running late," Britt said. "They are 15 days behind on their harvest, and the weather's not cooperating. So there's been a shortage of pecans this year."

Britt also attributes the shortage to the fact that two years ago, the Chinese began importing pecans from Georgia.

"So last year quite a bit of Georgia's crop ended up in China," he said. "That has also raised the price of pecans."

Britt noted that they were running about $6.95 a pound last year, and this year are up to $7.95.

Carolina Nut Cracker also buys a lot of its pecans from North Carolina growers.

"North Carolina pecans are also coming in a little bit late this year," he said. "It's the weather again. They've just not had the good freezing cold they needed. Last week they started coming in a little bit."

That means it's crunch time for the pecan processor.

"Due to the shortage and the crop running late, we're cracking just as hard as we can," Britt said. "We're rushing to get pecans out for the holidays. We're working about 20 hours a day here, two different crews. We usually only put in 12 hours a day."

The busiest time of the year was just before Thanksgiving because of the high demand for fresh pecan pie. Now, Britt said, they'll have about a week to catch their breath before gearing up for Christmas when people want pecans for candies, cheeseballs, pralines, hors d'oeuvres and things like that.

"People order pecans to just eat plain, too," Britt said. "They are very nutritious. Pecans are not just for the holidays anymore, they are for year-round."

Although Carolina Nut Cracker has never run out of pecans before, last week there were just a few bags left on the shelves that are usually loaded down with the nuts.

"People don't have to worry that they won't get pecans for the holidays," Britt said. "We are starting to catch up with orders. They've made us stretch thin. But other pecan processors are in the same boat."

To help them catch up is a state-of-the-art cracker that Britt bought a couple years ago. It can crack 640 pecans a minute.

And the business still uses its old crackers and shellers.

Carolina Nut Cracker processes several hundreds of thousands of pecans every year, Britt said.

"Since the first of October, we've processed more than 150,000 pounds of pecans, and we've sold all of them," he said.

The pecan processor sends the nuts to several grocery stores and delis, the Farmer's Market in Raleigh and even to Alaska. Plus several churches and prison ministries in the state, as well as in Virginia, sell the pecans as fundraisers.

"We'll make up the pecan sales," Britt said. "We might even sell more than we did last year. It's just we're slow getting started."