Walnut Yield Could Continue to Increase Over Next Few Years
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
October was the peak of harvest for the state’s biggest tree nut crops: almonds, pistachios and walnuts. California growers have completed this year’s walnut harvest, and so far growers are pleased with the yields. Final statistics for California walnut production in 2016 will not be available until mid- to late-January 2017.
The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)’s 2015 estimate of 365 thousand walnut acres in California (of which 300 thousand were bearing acres), represents a 50 percent increase versus a decade ago, according to Dennis Balint. Balint, who just retired as longtime executive director of the Folsom-based California Walnut Board and CEO of the California Walnut Commission since 1995, became the new special assistant to the California Walnut Board on November 1, 2016.
Growers had a record walnut harvest last year, and this year looks even more promising. “This year’s crop estimate from USDA’s California Agricultural Statistic Service (CASS) is 670 thousand tons, an 11 percent increase over last year’s 603,000 tons.
The NASS office in Sacramento, as relayed by Balint, reported this year’s walnut season began with a significant amount of winter moisture, along with an ample amount of chilling hours and average weather conditions during walnut bloom. Springtime rain concerned some growers because of the increased chances of blight and any resulting damage is under assessment.
While overall weather conditions were advantageous for growers, results were varied. “If you’re in Reading or Modesto, or Visalia, different factors affected you: climates, your own horticultural practices, what varieties you’re growing, etc.,” said Balint.
The estimate of this year’s harvest is good news for growers who, not many years ago, were fortunate to harvest merely 300,000 tons. Even with the estimated record harvest, there are still close to 80,000 acres of younger, nonbearing walnut trees in the state. Balint commented, “As those acres mature and come into production over the next few years—all things being equal—California’s walnut harvest could potentially increase by another 30 to 40 thousand tons per year.”
Balint also reported the Walnut Board has four tests in the grocery marketplace to determine how to increase stores’ holiday inventory of walnuts. [EDITOR’S NOTE: For fans of inshell walnuts, buy your supply early and often. Inventory of inshell walnuts is not expected to extend beyond the holidays.]
As of November 1, 2016, board members of the California Walnut Industry appointed Michelle Mcneil Connelly, former senior marketing director, as executive director of the California Walnut Board and as CEO of the California Walnut Commission.
The California Walnut Board was established in 1948 to represent the walnut growers and handlers of California. The Board is funded by mandatory assessments of the handlers. The California Walnut Commission, established in 1987, is funded by mandatory assessments of the growers.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service California Field Office is operated in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.