Walnut yields down; almonds finishing strong

Walnuts are a mixed bag this year when it comes to yield and quality, but as harvest nears its conclusion, there haven’t been many surprises.

“We’re probably about two-thirds through,” says Andy Dugo, PCA with Mid Valley Agricultural Services at Escalon. “The crop is coming in light, but everybody expected that. We’re probably about 25 percent to 30 percent off last year, when we had very good yields. If growers had 3 tons per acre last year, they’re probably pretty happy to get 2 tons this year.”

Statewide, 2007 California walnut production is forecast at 320,000 tons, down 8 percent from 346,000 tons in 2006, according to USDA/NASS. Bearing acreage is estimated at 216,000, for an average yield of 1.48 tons per acre.

The forecast is based on the Walnut Objective Measurement Survey conducted during August. Survey data indicated an average nut set of 1,357 per tree, down 7 percent from 2006's average of 1,458. The San Joaquin Valley set is 1,162, down 8 percent from last year; the coastal area set is 1,221, down 7 percent from 2006; the Sacramento Valley set is 1,548, down 7 percent from last year. The percentage of sound kernels in-shell was 98.4 percent statewide.

“The good news is it’s a very good quality crop,” Dugo says. “Insect damage was very light. The only concern now is finishing harvest.”

With more rain in the forecast, it’s simply a matter of keeping things dry, particularly on heavier ground. “It’s a concern,” he says, “but, I think we’ll be finished shortly, without too many problems.”

Growers appear to be fairly bullish on the future of walnuts, compared to some of the alternatives. “There are quite a few new acres that will be planted or come into production in the near future,” Dugo says. “Some growers are taking out peaches and planting walnuts, and there’s some virgin ground being planted to walnuts as well.”

Almond harvest is wrapping up across the state, and the outlook is still good in terms of yield and quality.

“The nonpareils were finished in this area in early September,” says Mark Freeman, Fresno County farm advisor. “They’re picking up some of the pollinators and other varieties now. It appears to be a very large crop overall, even though some kernel sizes are down and some yields were perhaps a little off on the nonpareils. But, it looks like the yields in some of the later varieties will make up for that.”

The size of the crop has been about the only problem this season, according to Freeman. “Hullers and shellers are backed up,” he says. “As far as pest problems go, it’s been an extraordinarily clean year.”

Even the harvesting process has been relatively clean and bodes well for the next crop. “We’ve seen very few problems with stick-tights,” Freeman says. “Even the mummies that were left on the trees last winter are coming off now without much of a problem. That should help minimize pest problems next season.”

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