Farmers Arm Themselves Against Pecan Thieves
The past two years have been a good year for pecans. So good, in fact, that from California to Georgia, there's been a spike in pecan theft. Not the kind where someone swipes a few from the trees in your backyard, but theft in amounts that could land you in jail.
Since 1965, Greg Daviet's century-old family farm has harvested pecans at Dixie Ranch in Las Cruces, New Mexico. 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. They're primarily used as gifts during the Chinese new year," Daviet says.
In past years, the price of pecans by the pound have been 60 cents. 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.
"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," Daviet says.
He has security guards and patrols that drive around his 250-acre farm day and night.
"When you drive onto my farm, we take a picture of your driver's license, we found out why you are there. I just don't like being so unfriendly but unfortunately, I have to be."
He says this is in good measure because farmers face fairly low margins, so if just one percent of his crop is stolen, it could be a third of his net income for the entire year.
He adds that the local 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 legislative measures that would 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."
When Raz asked Daviet his favorite pecan recipe, he went with the classic pecan pie.
"I love pecan pie," Daviet says. "I also like chocolate dipped pecans, I like chili roasted pecans, I like all pecans."