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Green Valley Pecans closes processing plant

Green Valley Pecan Co. TNFP1021-GreenValleyPecanCo-pecans.jpg
The Green Valley Pecan Co. is closing its Sahuarita, Ariz., processing plant at the end of 2021.
Owner Farmers Investment Co. cited a multitude of factors in what it called ‘a challenging global market.’

When it comes to pecan production in Arizona, the big dog on the porch is a little smaller with the announcement by FICO, Farmers Investment Company, that it will turn out the lights on its pecan processing plant in Sahuarita/Green Valley at the end of the year.

Beyond that point, harvested pecans will be transported to the South Georgia Pecan Company, headquartered in Valdosta, Ga. — although FICO’s pecans are expected to be processed in an El Paso facility.

South Georgia is a century-old processing entity that handles different varieties grown state-to-state that vary in size, shape, and meat yield.  “Our facility is capable of grading upwards of 400,000 pounds a day of ready-to-shell product,” said In-Shell Plant Manager Justin Myers.

“We’re pleased to have entered into this collaboration,” said Dick Walden, who has led FICO since 1983.  “We grow what we believe to be the best quality pecan in the world and South Georgia Pecan is an innovative leader in shelling and processing.  The strengths of our respective companies should serve customers well.”

FICO cited a multitude of factors in what it called “a challenging global market” that included low-cost competition from Mexican processors, trade war tariffs (now at 27% for U.S. pecans), and lingering financial impacts from COVID-19.  A company press release reported: “All these factors combined to make it unsustainable to continue shelling pecans in Southern Arizona.”

A company spokesman indicated that local focus would be on the orchards where pecans would continue to be grown, cleaned, and prepared for shipment, just no longer processed on-site.

As head honcho, Walden has spent decades with a processing plant right next to the orchards.  “It was a difficult decision to make,” he says, citing those three reasons.  "The Trump tariff and Mexico competition were bad enough, but we had a number of customers in 2020 who had to shut their plants down because of COVID and that left us with a huge inventory we had expected to sell but had to carry over into calendar 2021."

Facility to be changed

The processing plant, which will continue shelling into December, will be turned into an in-shell cold storage and shipping facility.  An adjacent retail nut store, opened in 1981 to sell pecan-related items, will also cease operation in early 2022.  Shutting down the processing plant will result in the severance of half the 270-employee payroll.

The plant opened in 1975 giving GVPC the ability to process 28 million pounds of pecans, those from local orchards as well as from Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico, in year-round operations.

Green Valley Pecan Company, a division of Farmers Investment Company, is a family-owned and operated entity that billed itself as “one of the world’s leading suppliers and processors of quality pecans.” 

In Southern Arizona since 1948 when founder Keith Walden originally farmed cotton on the property, the operation was transitioned to pecans in the 1950s.  Today’s property holdings are in excess of 7,000 acres where the family has shepherded pecan crops “from the blossom to the package” for decades.

Although acreage and numbers of trees are always a variable commodity, GVPC grows in three orchard areas, primarily a 12-mile-long property south of Tucson where 90,000 Western Schley and Wichita varieties stand tall.

Interestingly enough, the Arizona Pecan Grower’s Association, in existence for over 30 years and established “to provide Arizona pecan growers with the knowledge and resources to promote a healthy pecan growing industry,” had little reaction to FICO’s major news announcement.

Although the association was formed “to promote and improve the advancement of the pecan industry in the State of Arizona,” APGA President Harold Payne told Western Farm Press, “APGA has no comment on this matter.”

On a lighter note, Walden said his upcoming harvest should be a good one.  “We’ve got a good crop, both quantity and quality,” he said.

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