Elliot Minor/Associated Press
A machine shakes pecans from a tree near Albany, Ga., in 2001. Pecan prices have soared to record highs in 2012, driven by withering drought in the U.S. and surging demand in Asia.
The past two years have been good for pecans — so good, in fact, that there's been a spike in pecan theft from California to Georgia. And it's not people swiping a few nuts from a tree in someone else's backyard, but theft in amounts that could land someone in jail.
Greg Daviet's century-old family farm has harvested pecans in Las Cruces, New Mexico, since 1965. This year, Daviet tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, an increase in demand from Europe, the Middle East and India has led to a price hike, with China as the top importer.
"I am not an expert on it by any means, but they are apparently considered a delicacy," Daviet says. "They're primarily used as gifts during the Chinese New Year."
In past years, the price of pecans has been around 60 cents a pound. This year, they are about $2.85 per pound in New Mexico and surrounding regions. Trees are often planted more than a decade in advance, so predictions can be hard to make on how much crops will sell for. High prices in one year can help sustain farmers during the low-price seasons.
More valuable crops mean farmers have another problem to deal with: pecan thieves.
Daviet says tens of thousands of pounds of pecans are being stolen out of pecan orchards every week. So, like other local pecan farmers, Daviet says he has taken to carrying a gun around his farm.
Pecan farmers in New Mexico are paying security guards to watch over their land. Pecan prices have risen more than 365 percent in just two years and have led to a spate of thefts across the country.
Pecan farmers in New Mexico are paying security guards to watch over their land. Pecan prices have risen more than 365 percent in just two years and have led to a spate of thefts across the country. iStockphoto.com
"The most common thing is people coming literally in the middle of the night, shaking nuts out of trees, wrecking them up and then taking them out on their vehicle," he says.
Daviet has security guards and patrols who drive around his 250-acre farm day and night.
He takes pictures of visitors' driver's licenses. "I just don't like being so unfriendly, but unfortunately, I have to be."
Daviet says this is in good measure because farmers face fairly low margins, so if just 1 percent of his crop is stolen, it could be a third of his net income for the entire year.
He says pecan farmers met with the local sheriff's office in December to discuss the thefts.
Stealing hundreds of pounds of pecans is considered a felony, but the industry is working with politicians, law enforcement and the district attorney's office to pass more comprehensive laws to help prevent thefts.
"We've talked about trying to license the buying station, so that if you are buying pecans, you need to have been approved by our industry, know who you are, and you are not someone who is actively trying to buy stolen pecans."