Perception of health benefits may drive consumption
By TIM HEARDEN
YUBA CITY, Calif. -- California walnut growers this season have turned out a record yield for the third straight year, producing nearly 502,000 tons.
The current season's crop -- an increase from the 436,013 tons harvested and processed in 2009-10 -- continues a fairly consistent decade-long trend of increases, noted Dennis Balint, CEO of the California Walnut Commission.
The Golden State's nearly 220,000 bearing acres are about 20,000 more than in 2000, when the state produced about 250,000 tons of walnuts, according to commission statistics.
"The good news is your prices are good, and this could very well be a $1 billion year for the California walnut industry," Balint told growers during a University of California Cooperative Extension-sponsored workshop Feb. 24 in Yuba City.
Since Sept. 1, California has shipped 240.4 million pounds of in-shell walnuts and nearly 76.4 million pounds of shelled walnuts overseas, up from 165.8 million and 69.6 million, respectively, during the same period in 2009-2010.
Carry-in inventories have remained tight, meaning higher prices for growers, Balint said. As of Dec. 31, the state's total inventory was 75 million pounds of in-shell walnuts and 185.8 million pounds of shelled walnuts, according to the commission.
The high yield in 2010 came despite a cool spring and mild summer that caused a delay in the ripening of the nuts, along with many of California's other crops.
Most growers in the Central Valley, which produces most of the nation's walnuts, didn't start their harvest until late September or early October.
One reason for the brisk demand for walnuts could be the perception that they're nutritious. In a 2009 survey, 87 percent of respondents believed they're healthful, 55 percent said they provide more benefits than other nuts and 55 percent said they were buying more walnuts than five years previously, said Michelle McNeil, a walnut commission senior marketing director.
One upcoming challenge for growers will be implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which stiffens safety requirements for growers and handlers and gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to order mandatory recalls.
Growers must take steps to prevent contamination of nuts, such as keeping animals out of orchards, requiring frequent hand washing by pickers and keeping equipment clean, said Carl Eidsath, the California Walnut Board's technical support director.
California walnut production
2010-11: 501,446 tons
2009-10: 436,013 tons
2008-09: 434,301 tons
2007-08: 323,082 tons
2006-07: 344,334 tons
2005-06: 354,218 tons
Source: California Walnut Board
Here are the leading varieties of walnuts harvested in California in 2010, according to the California Walnut Board:
Chandler: 208,086 tons (41.5 percent)
Hartley: 70,420 tons (14.04 percent)
Howard: 54,780 tons (10.92 percent)
Tulare: 46,812 tons (9.34 percent)
Serr: 36,367 tons (7.25 percent)
Vina: 35,796 tons (7.14 percent)
Others: 49,185 tons (9.81 percent)
Total: 501,446 tons (100 percent)
Top 10 counties
Here are the top 10 California counties in terms of walnut production in 2010, according to the California Walnut Board:
San Joaquin County: 88,225 tons
Butte County: 73,570 tons
Tulare County: 63,820 tons
Stanislaus County: 50,225 tons
Sutter County: 46,345 tons
Tehama County: 39,399 tons
Glenn County: 31,110 tons
Yuba County: 23,154 tons
Kings County: 16,547 tons
Yolo County: 13,167 tons