Walnuts benefit from chilling, late rains

Sib Fedora began seeing the first blossoms on his walnut trees around March 25, which was right on schedule despite an early winter dry spell.

“I was a bit concerned that the dry weather in December and January hurt the trees,” says the Meridian, Calif., farmer. “But then we had some pretty cold weather that set them back into good dormancy. Plus, some rains in February and March, provided good subsoil moisture.”

Fedora Farms, is operated by Sib, his wife, Margaret, and their two sons, Brian and Chris. They own and operate 400 acres of producing walnuts (Hartley, Serr, Tehama, Howard, Chandler and Blackmer) along the Sacramento River, and have another 200 acres of trees that will start bearing soon.

They also provide pruning, harvesting, hulling and drying of walnuts for other farmers, as well as GPS planting of walnuts and other fruits and nuts.

GPS planting techniques can shave days, even several weeks, off the time it takes to prepare a field for planting. Additionally, the time interval between when young trees are removed from refrigeration and planted in the ground is greatly reduced compared to hand planting.

The GPS system improves survival rates so significantly that nurseries are having to warrant fewer trees.

In the last several years, Fedora Farms has planted several thousand acres of walnuts, almonds, peaches and prunes in Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, Glenn and Butte Counties. The number of almond acres they’ve planted this year is off a bit from usual, because growers are wary of expanding after last year’s big crop. However, the Fedoras’ custom-planted walnut acreage this year is about the same as in previous years.

“Because of last year’s record 435,000-ton crop, the walnut industry faces some pretty big challenges,” he says.

“Last August I met with buyers from Australia, China and Japan, who indicated that they would continue to buy their share of walnuts. After the world economy crashed, only a few walnuts were sold in November and December. But now things have started to pick up, and the crop movement is much better.”

Fedora sees a very strong market for walnuts in the long term.

“When the world economy picks up, the market suggests that prices for the 2009 crop will increase somewhat,” he says. “It won’t reach the level of 2007, but it will be better than last year. In the meantime, the best thing we growers can do is to produce a quality product — and that’s always a challenge we’re up to.”

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