What’s already been a bang-up year for California walnut growers shows signs of getting even better.
Based on tonnage received by handlers through mid-November and additional deliveries expected by the end of this calendar year, the 2016 California walnut harvest is likely to meet - or perhaps even exceed - the record 670,00 tons forecast by the National Agricultural Statistics Service in early September.
This is according to walnut industry consultant Pete Turner of Turner and Associates in Stockton, Calif., and chairman of the California Walnut Handler Coalition. Tuner said by Oct. 31 handlers had reported new crop receipts of 627,812 tons; or 83,000 tons more than the same time last year.
Part of this increase reflects a one week earlier start of this year’s harvest, compared to 2015.
Turner attributes another 20 percent to 30 percent or so to increased production during the good growing season. He credits the balance to additional walnut plantings in recent years which began to enter commercial production this year.
He expects handlers to receive an additional 45,000 tons of walnuts in November and December. If accurate, the 2016 California walnut crop could total 673,000 tons – almost 12 percent larger than last year’s record 603,000 ton record crop.
With the larger walnut supply going into the market, Turner sees a good chance that once handlers have marketed the 2016 crop that growers could end up with higher returns compared to last year’s crop price.
“Prices of the 2015 crop started out higher than the current level but then they dropped,” Turner said.
“The lower starting prices for this year’s crop have stimulated an increase in demand. Based on the market so far, I see the possibility that average prices for the 2016 crop market could exceed last year. If so, this could mean higher returns for growers even with the larger 2016 crop.”
Serr variety yields this year are about 30 percent lower than last year, Turner notes. While 2016 tonnage of the Tulare variety was about the same as last year, Howard and Hartley variety yields were up slightly this year.
However, Turner says most of this year’s increased production is based on much higher yields for Chandler variety walnuts which represent almost half of California’s total walnut production.
On nut color and quality, Turner says, “The good news is that almost all varieties are well above average for light-color kernels and the overall quality of the crop was excellent,” Turner says. “But this has created a shortage of darker-color Combo type material in some areas, especially the domestic market.”
He says walnut shipments are up across the board, compared to last year.
October Shipments 2016 2015
In-shell 146.5 million pounds 99.7 million pounds
Shelled 50.4 million pounds 40.1 million pounds
In-shell Equivalent 130,504 tons 96,000 tons
(since Sept. 1)
In-shell 181.0 million pounds 112.9 million pounds
Shelled 79.5 million pounds 62.7 million pounds
In-shell equivalent 180,829 tons 128,748 tons
The October market was active in most areas, says Turner. Shipments posted record gains, including a nearly 77 percent increase in in-shell shipments to Turkey and 32 percent higher shipments to Europe.
Total shipments of shelled product to all countries increased 27 percent. In fact, walnut shipments reached record levels every month this year.
“I believe this string of record shipping volumes will continue for the next several months and that the walnut market will remain firm well into the new year,” Turners says.
In mid-November, J/L Hartley (a standard pack of 70 percent Jumbo and 30 percent large) was actively trading at $1.35 per pound or higher with Chandler J/L firm at $1.35, he notes.