Growers hope for perfect weather as nuts start to flow
By TIM HEARDEN
DAIRYVILLE, Calif. -- Shakers are making their way through orchards and hullers are working at full speed as the harvest of early walnut varieties has begun in California's Sacramento Valley.
Vina and Tehama varieties are coming off the trees, and growers expect to be busy for the next month as harvesting Chandlers -- the bulk of the crop -- gets started in early October.
"By the third week of October, we'll have the bulk of this done," said Rick Buchner, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Red Bluff.
In an orchard operated by Crain Orchards in this community just south of Red Bluff, harvesters had cleared Chico and Vina walnuts and started on Howards as of Sept. 26, farm manager Jud Pray said.
"It's still early, but the crop's good," Pray said. "We'll get into a really big volume by next week."
Growers are working diligently to prevent a repeat of last year, when nearly a week of early October rain in Northern California caused walnut processing plants to grind to a halt. The series of storms washed many nuts off the trees and onto the muddy orchard floor, and growers had to wait until the ground dried to collect the nuts.
Some weather models forecast a chance of rain in Northern California around Oct. 6.
However, Pray was just as concerned about another weather development -- heat. Walnuts tend to do better in cooler, more humid conditions, Pray said. A hot, dry day can deplete moisture from the nuts as trees become stressed, he said.
"It doesn't really help us," he said of the heat.
The walnut harvest begins as almond and pistachio harvests have pressed forward in the Golden State. Good quality was reported for pistachios, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento.
Walnut output in California is expected to increase this year, as NASS projects 470,000 tons to be produced compared with 461,000 tons in 2011.
This year's estimate suggests the second-largest crop on record for California walnuts, which account for 99 percent of the U.S. commercial supply and roughly three-quarters of world trade.
California's walnut production set records in three consecutive seasons before last year's disappointing crop, which was made worse by the early rainstorms.
This year's crop was bolstered by favorable weather during pollination and ideal spring conditions, NASS reported.
Crain Walnut Shelling Inc.: http://www.crainwalnut.com/
UCCE Tehama County: http://cetehama.ucdavis.edu/
California Walnut Commission: http://www.walnuts.org/