Moderated by Rick Badie
If you find pecans pricey this holiday season, some credit goes to the Chinese middle class. They’re crazy about pecans produced in Georgia, the nation’s leading producer of the product. Today, we hear from a South Georgia farmer who sells 90 percent of his crop to China. In another topic, a Metro Atlanta Chamber executive writes about his experience as a guest lecturer at China Jiliang University.
China goes nuts for Georgia pecans
By Randy Hudson
What would the holidays be without roasted pecans and pecan pies? It is my job to ensure you never have to worry about having pecans for your holidays.
Pecans have always been a part of the Hudson family of Irwin County. My great-grandfather dug up pecans trees from a local creek bottom and replanted them in one of the first pecan orchards in Georgia. Pecans at that time were used as food for the family, feed for livestock and a small income source. My father, Newt Hudson, raised and educated three children on 20 acres of pecans. The Hudson family tree is literally a pecan tree, for it has fed and sustained our family for five generations.
Pecans are grown and marketed across the southern United States, from the Carolinas to California. Pecans are also produced in Mexico, South Africa, Australia and Israel.
The United States annually produces approximately 300 million pounds of pecans — about half the world’s production — and Georgia accounts for roughly one-third of that amount. The most concentrated production of pecans in the world is within a 60-mile radius of Albany. The farm gate value of pecans in Georgia will annually exceed $300 million and contribute more than $1 billion to the economies of rural Georgia.
In 1998, our family produced a very large crop of pecans, and the prices paid were low due to excess national supply. After having worked for an entire year and not making enough money to cover my expenses, I packed my bags and traveled to China to market my pecans. I found one dubious customer willing to trade a container of shelled Chinese walnuts for a container of in-shell pecans.
Since that first trip, my company and many others have sent millions of pounds of pecans to China and other Asian countries.
In 2012, China imported more than 100 million pounds of pecans — equal to all of the pecans produced in Georgia most years. As a result of this increased demand for Georgia’s pecans, we have seen higher prices. Pecans the Hudson Pecan Co. sold in 1998 for 50 cents per pound have increased to more than $3 per pound this year. Pecan farmers are now able to take these profits and grow the industry.
It has also allowed us to expand our company, hire more local employees and even bring our children back to the farm. Today, my son Scott manages the family farm.
The price you pay this holiday season for your pecans, pecan pies, cookies and cakes may be higher than past years. This increase in price will be partially due to the tremendous Chinese appetite for pecans.
Randy Hudson is a pecan farmer in Ocilla.
Chinese students have thirst for knowledge
By Jorge Fernandez
I was honored recently to spend a month at China Jiliang University as a guest instructor, teaching students what I called, “A Flight Plan for International Business Development.” In our growing international economy, it is important for all students to grasp global business fluency.
I also visited with key business partners in China. The Metro Atlanta Chamber and partners such as the city of Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Power, have long targeted China. Whether for the attraction of Foreign Direct Investment or as a destination for Atlanta-based companies, China remains a priority. China tourism into Georgia has one of the highest growth rates. More than 25 Chinese companies call Atlanta home, and several of our companies have been growing steadily in that vast market.
Key is preserving relationships and trust. Both are characterized by the Chinese concept of “guanxi,” which describes the careful and consistent relationship and connection-building that is central to successful business in China.
While there, I came to understand so much more about the concerns of China’s future leaders, how they are being trained, the employment challenges they face, and the concerns they have about navigating a global environment. One of the primary concerns, of course, is the number of available jobs versus graduates.
Among my unforgettable experiences was speaking at conferences about research and development and trends in clean technology, particularly in a city where all scooters must be electric and bikes are provided by the government and free for the first hour’s rental. Of particular interest was the future of education in China including current drivers for change, such as broader access to knowledge and the merits of online education. Chinese universities are aware of coming agents of change such as global mobility, digital technology and integration with industry.
I enjoyed great debate with other professors about the Chinese education system, particularly the increase of face-to-face exposure between students and professors and a move away from one-sided lectures that require only passive participation.
I observed that students in China are very focused and thirsty for learning. They truly want to know how to be successful in a global economy. At the same time, they are just like any students anywhere. They are very savvy when it comes to technology, and many of their perspectives on life are no different than those of American students.
Jorge Fernandez is vice president of global commerce for the Metro Atlanta Chamber.