National / International News

As walnut prices rise, consumers look to pecans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

The water-thirsty nut crops grown in California are getting a lot of attention these days given that state’s four-year drought.

Take walnuts for example. The drought has affected both supply and quality of this popular nut, and that’s helped double its price over the last few years.  But with increased prices, coupled with declining quality, consumers are looking for alternatives.  

That means farmers are starting to look at other places – and other nuts – to grow. The interest is good news for pecan growers in places like Texas and Georgia, because pecans are a natural substitute for walnuts.

“The applications, particularly when you’re talking about baking, are very similar,” says Dan Zedan of Nature’s Finest Foods, which specializes in marketing tree nuts.

Aside from the obvious differences – different nuts, different trees – there’s one key distinction between the two: where the nuts are grown. Pecans are grown in a handful of states and can flourish in a variety of climates.  Walnuts, on the other hand, need arid conditions to thrive and are grown almost exclusively in California.  

With the price of walnuts on the uptick, Zedans says, “We’ve seen a significant shift in consumption of Pecans.”

Zedan says confectioners and bakers have always preferred pecans, but up until recently pecans have generally been the more expensive option. The opposite has been true in the last three years.

“[Pecans] have a much better flavor profile, they have a better shelf life, they’re a bit more versatile, and there is a quality perception difference between walnuts and pecans,” Zedan says.

This is all good news for Georgia, which is the top pecan producer in the U.S. Other pecan producing states like Texas and New Mexico are happy too.

Lenny Wells, a pecan specialist with the University of Georgia, says the pecan industry was booming even before the California drought. Growers, he says, have seen almost a dollar increase per pound in the last few years.

“A lot of that is driven by the export demand for pecans right now, mainly to Asia,” Wells says. “So the economics looks good and we’ve had a lot of outside interest in the industry.”

With California’s ongoing drought, this interest is showing no signs of letting up.

Wells says he’s even gotten a couple of calls from California nut growers looking to set up shop in Georgia. 

Calpers reportedly looking to sell of timberland

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

California’s public-employee pension fund—Calpers—is reportedly looking to unload some trees. About 300,000 acres-worth, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reports Calpers wants to sell timberland it owns in the Southeastern U.S.

Calpers lists about $2.2 billion worth of forestland investments in its $300 billion portfolio; it has much bigger stakes in investment classes such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. The investments fund the pensions of more than 1.5 million California public employees and retirees in California.

Back in the early 2000s, the trend was to diversify investments to get higher returns (Calpers faces underfunded pension liabilities, as do many other state pension funds). But some alternative investments didn’t pan out, says economist John Canally at LPL Financial.

“What happened to timber prices over the last ten years—you basically got no return on forestry stocks,” says Canally. He says the housing crash and global recession depressed the lumber market. If pension funds like Calpers had left their money in stocks and bonds, he says, their investments would have been more profitable in the long run.

A spokesman for Calpers told Marketplace by email that he could not confirm any plans to downsize Calpers’ timber holdings or review that segment of the fund’s portfolio.

University of Georgia forestry business professor Thomas Harris says that if Calpers did want to sell its timberlands in Louisiana and East Texas, there would be plenty of potential buyers. “Weyerhauser, Potlach, Plum Creek, have been active in acquiring timber land,” says Harris. “There’s interest by pension funds and high-wealth individuals.”

Harris says timber can be an attractive and stable investment, because the trees keep growing, getting more valuable as time goes on.

How Mexico is fighting obesity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 02:00

Mexico and the United States have the highest rates of obesity of any major country in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

But Mexico has been taking steps to change that. "In the United States, we think we're the first to do everything, but that's not necessarily true," says Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. "And in the case of policies, to address the obesity problem, there are other countries that have been out of the gate earlier than we have." 

Mexico is one of the first countries to adopt a tax on sugary beverages, a ban on junk food advertisement during kids' shows and movies, and a push towards healthier food in schools. But Franco Sassi, senior health economist at the OECD, says it is difficult to specify exactly what constitutes a "healthy food." 

When it comes to obesity, there is no single food and policy that can tip the scales by itself, Sassi says.

A Loft-y purchase

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-05-18 01:59
$2.16 billion

That's the purchase price for Ann Taylor's and Loft's parent company. The buyer? Ascena Retail Group, the owner of Lane Bryant and Dressbarn. As reported by the New York Times, the combined companies will have 4,930 stores in the United States alone.

"Seven or eight"

That's how many errors publisher HarperCollins corrected in "Clinton Cash," a controversial book about Hillary Clinton's finances and foundation. Normally, readers would have to wait for a new edition for these revisions, but there's no standard practice for e-books, and in this case they were updated with a notification email from Amazon. 


That's about how many acres of timberland the California’s public-employee pension fund, Calpers, is reportedly looking to sell. With the lumber market down since the housing crash, investments in that industry by Calpers have not been performing as well as if the money had been put into stocks and bonds.

$16.1 million

That's how much Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba says it spends per year fighting counterfeit goods. But not everyone thinks the site is doing all it can. Shortly before its IPO in July, a group of luxury brands represented by Kering SA filed a suit against Alibaba citing dissatisfaction with efforts to weed out counterfeit goods. That initial suit was dropped, but now those same brands are back, this time claiming Alibaba assists counterfeiters in the sale of their products.

2 weeks

That's about how long The Navigation Center, a new kind of homeless shelter in San Francisco, aims to have residents back on their feet and into housing. Facing pressure from the tech industry to address homelessness, the city is trying out a new kind of system that feels less institutionalized. At The Navigation Center, residents are allowed to bring pets, and there are no curfews. There are also government programs on site to help with employment and 


That's how many people police killed in 2013, according to the FBI. But there's more to those numbers; mainly that they may be inaccurate, and better data is hard to come by. Local departments' reporting standards don't match up, and often the paperwork just doesn't get filed correctly. That's the latest story in our series "Behind the Blue Line."

Footballer 'to deny' sex charges

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 01:59
England and Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson will deny sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl, a court is told.

Harlequins agree to sign Roberts

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 01:12
Harlequins agree a deal to sign Wales international centre Jamie Roberts from French Top 14 side Racing Metro.

Swift dominates Billboard awards

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 01:06
Pop star Taylor Swift wins eight of 14 categories at the Billboard Music Awards, while Kanye West is booed.

VIDEO: BBC detained 'like spies' in Qatar

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 01:03
While reporting on the living conditions of low-paid migrant workers in Qatar, BBC reporter Mark Lobel was arrested and detained by Doha security services.

'Mad Men' Finale: A Love Letter To Fans Filled With Mostly Happy Endings

NPR News - Mon, 2015-05-18 00:58

AMC's Mad Men ended its seven-season run on Sunday. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says fans may have loved how characters' stories were resolved, but critics may question how writers got them there.

» E-Mail This

What Cameron wants from Berlin and Brussels

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 00:31
What EU reforms are Osborne and Cameron seeking in their talks ahead of the UK's referendum?

Fishermen 'should not save migrants'

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 00:28
Fishermen in Indonesia's Aceh say they have been told not to rescue any of the thousands of migrants in the Andaman Sea, even if they are drowning.

Dogs saved from 'severe' kennel fire

BBC - Mon, 2015-05-18 00:21
Ten dogs are rescued from a "severe" fire at a private kennels in Salford in which four animals died.

VIDEO: Harry: Flower Show garden 'fantastic'

BBC - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:57
Prince Harry has visited the Sentebale garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show and said it was ''fantastic''

It's Not A Come-On From A Satanic Cult. It's A New Kind Of Poll!

NPR News - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:53

Tanzanians were skeptical when they were invited for a free trip to the big city to discuss natural gas policy. But it's actually an innovative strategy to involve ordinary citizens in key decisions.

» E-Mail This

Deaf Jam: Experiencing Music Through A Cochlear Implant

NPR News - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:52

After swapping hearing aids for a cochlear implant, Sam Swiller's taste in music shifted dramatically, from grunge rock to folk. Now scientists are trying to improve how implants relay music.

» E-Mail This

Why are more women choosing to become nuns?

BBC - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:45
The number of women becoming nuns in the UK is rising. Caroline Wyatt asks why.

In Seoul, Kerry Calls N. Korea Provocations 'Egregious,' 'Reckless'

NPR News - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:44

America's top diplomat says North Korea's muscle flexing on the Korean peninsula may lead to further international pressure — and possibly a referral to the International Criminal Court.

» E-Mail This

VIDEO: Blind pole vaulter clears 3.5 metres

BBC - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:15
Blind pole vaulter Charlotte Brown clears 3.5 metres to win a bronze medal at the Texas state high school championships.

Unite union 'to debate Labour link'

BBC - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:10
The Unite union is expected to debate ending its link with Labour when it meets for its July conference, sources tell the BBC.

888 in takeover approach for Bwin

BBC - Sun, 2015-05-17 23:07
UK online gaming group 888 says it has made a takeover approach for rival, which has already had a bid from GVC Holdings.