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Producing Excellence

Marty Harrell

Camilla, GA

Harrell Nut Company

Type of Operation: Pecan processing

Size of Operation: 500,000 pounds per day capacity

In Business Since: 1994

Farm Credit Partner: Southwest Georgia Farm Credit

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1998

Most people are aware that globalization – increased trade, communication and integration between countries – is impacting the national economy. What is less well known is the dramatic affect this globalization is having on one specific agricultural industry.

Pecans, popular for use in baking and candy in the U.S., are considered a delicacy in China, eaten as a snack for their flavor and health benefits. As the disposable income of the Chinese population has increased, demand for pecans is at an all time high. In fact, over the last five years, China’s imports of pecans grew to nearly one-quarter of the U.S. pecan crop, and increased from 1.8 million pounds to 88 million pounds between 2005 – 2009. Other countries, too, are increasing demand for pecans.

Helping to meet that demand is Marty Harrell, CEO of Harrell Nut Company, which he founded in 1994 after 20 years in the industry. In addition to retail operations and a school fund-raising division, Harrell Nut is one of the top four pecan shellers in the country and operates internationally on both the supply and demand side. “We’re buying in 15 states and Mexico, Argentina and South Africa,” says Marty. “And we export to 26 countries, with China being our largest market.”

The growth in international demand, destination for 25% of Harrell Nut’s production, combined with a dedication to meeting domestic demand as efficiently as possible, led Marty to significantly expand his capacity. In addition to purchasing a second plant in Texas, two years ago he upgraded both plants with the latest technology so he can now shell 200,000 pounds of pecans per day, per plant.

Marty Harrell has had a long-term relationship with Southwest Georgia Farm Credit that began more than 14 years ago when he visited the Association’s Camilla office for a production loan to facilitate his small pecan growing operation. Over the years, Marty has grown his shelling operation, and now the Farm Credit association finances the entire operation.

Growers, too, are responding to the increased demand, planting new orchards, restoring older orchards, and most significantly, changing the variety of the nuts they grow through new plantings and grafting processes. “Different markets desire different varieties,” says Marty. “Growers now are planting varieties that produce well, are more disease resistant and produce larger nuts, which have a bigger worldwide market.”

This matters to Marty not just because they’re his suppliers, but because he is committed to the industry as a whole, serving as president of the National Pecan Shellers Association and as co-chair of the National Pecan Council. Working with both producers and shellers, Marty is striving for a unified approach to marketing U.S. production. “There have been more acres planted in the past three years than anyone can remember, and it takes 7 – 10 years before those nuts come into maturity,” he says. “We need to work today to explore and expand markets for this future production so the industry remains strong.”

Download a PDF version of this story here.