The booming U.S. pecan industry continues to ship more to China and other markets, and now is setting its sights on a new growth market: India.

A rising middle class in China has driven huge growth in U.S. pecan exports to the country, said Randy Hudson, president of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association, vice president of the National Pecan Growers Council and president of Ocilla, Ga.-based Hudson Pecan Co.

“There’s a huge emerging class in China that can afford a more Westernized diet,” Hudson said.

The American pecan tastes like the Chinese hickory nut, Hudson said. What makes the pecan preferable is its much bigger size and much larger percentage of meat per nut.

Hudson Pecan Co. exports about 90% of its pecans to China, Hudson said. About 60% of all Georgia pecans wind up in China.

That huge growth, combined with growth in other markets in Asia, the Middle East and other areas, has translated into big acreage boosts in the U.S., Hudson said.

“Historically, the U.S. ships about 300 million pounds annually,” he said. “Within ten years, it could be double that.”

And U.S. growers hope that by then, India will have joined China and other countries that import large volumes of U.S. product.

Currently, U.S. shippers can export to India, but they face a stiff tariff close to 40%. That, combined with the fact that pecans already are more costly than other nuts, means it’s next to impossible to ship big volumes to India, Hudson said.

But other U.S. nut industries have gotten Indian tariffs lowered, and Hudson is optimistic that eventually the pecan industry will, too, though it could take awhile.

“In time it will get done, but if history is any indication, it could take several years,” he said. “Regrettably, tariffs are often very political in nature. It’s going to take some person or group in India to ask for it.”

If the industry is patient, however, the rewards could be great.

“If we could get (a tariff reduction) comparable to walnuts and almonds, we envision India being as big as China,” he said.