Walnut crop down; seller’s market bodes well for the industry

If you don’t have a huge crop to sell, at least it’s nice to have someone who wants to buy it.

The consensus around the state is that walnut yields will be down this year, but demand — foreign and domestic — remains strong due increased consumer awareness of the nutritional value of nuts.

“The walnut crop will be down considerably this year,” says Kathy Kelley, Stanislaus County UCCE farm advisor. “I don't have a quantitative estimate, but all varieties are down.”

That assessment is echoed by fellow UCCE Integrated Orchard Management/Walnut and Almond Specialist Bruce Lampinen.

“My take is that the crop is generally a little light, particularly for Chandlers,” he says. “The Tulare crop is a little better and the Howard crop is generally pretty good. That’s just my personal observation, based on a relatively small sample of orchards, although I have heard similar reports from growers statewide.”

The reasons are not readily apparent. A lack of chilling hours is one theory, but the California almond crop, even in the southern parts of the state, is so loaded that growers have worried more about breaking branches than anything else. The difference is that walnuts can require twice as many chilling hours as almonds. While the winter was cold enough for almonds, it was not for walnuts. One reason: the lack of fog and a decline in winter rainfall statewide.

Most observers agree the crop decline isn’t solely due to reduced chilling hours.

“There are so many things that lead to fruit set,” Kelly says. “Were the flowers initiated? Was pistillate flower abscission (PFA) an issue? What were the pollination conditions? Also, walnut crops are somewhat alternate-bearing, and we had good production last year.”

Excess pollen reduces the set on walnuts by causing pistillate flowers to abscise. Some varieties such as Serr are more susceptible to PFA than others. There was so much pollen this spring that PFA may have been an issue in many more varieties than Serr.

It can’t be blamed on disease or pests — walnuts have skated through the season like many other tree and vine crops, with little or no problems worthy of note.

“I’ve seen some blight in earlier varieties like Vina, but the incidence is sporadic in this area,” Kelley says. “We’ve had no real insect problems so far.”

At least growers won’t have much trouble unloading their crop, even if it is short.

“The market is hot,” says Dennis Balint, executive director of the Walnut Marketing Board. “The product is in short supply and product development continues. It’s a seller’s market.”

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