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California walnut growers expect above average crop
walnuts pic
This year's California walnut crop is expected to reach a whopping 495,000 tons. Walnut popularity has grown so much that local farmers, like Turlock's Randy Dickey pictured above, were on a wait list to purchase walnut varieties. - photo by Journal file photo

Walnuts, walnuts and more walnuts.

Last week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported a more than bountiful crop for California’s walnut growers, with numbers expected to reach a whopping 495,000 tons; a total slightly lower than last year’s crop.

California Walnut Commission Chairman Donald Norene credits the warm temperatures for  the large numbers this year.

“We enjoyed a warm, dry spring which will allow us to harvest up to a week earlier than the 2012 crop,” said Norene.

Along with dry temperatures, many walnut farmers have also mechanized much of the shaking and collecting process of the fallen crop, which in turn ramps up production time.

In California, walnuts have exploded in popularity, with estimates that over 11,000 new acres having been planted this year alone; marking a doubling of the crop over the last decade. 

The trend has also been evident in Stanislaus County, with county growers producing more than 71,000 pounds of walnuts last year, with an estimated value for the crop exceeding $214 million.

Currently, 99 percent of the domestic, and 64 percent of the international supply of walnuts are produced in California, and with the rising demand for the nut overseas, growers can’t seem to produce enough.

“We are expecting good quality, plentiful walnuts for our customers around the world,” said Norene.

Norene stated that emerging markets in Asia are largely responsible for the increased production, with markets in countries like India and China now demanding the California nut. 

“Domestic market development and continued expansion of export markets will be critical to future production gains,” Norene said. “New emerging markets, such as India, will play a vital role in developing the industry’s future consumers.”

Dennis Balint, chief executive officer for the California Walnut Commission, said many overseas consumers are seeing the health benefits associated with walnuts, which is adding to the increased demand.

“Global demand for walnuts remains at an all-time high because consumer awareness of the versatility and nutritional benefits of walnuts continues to grow,” said Balint. “With over 100 published health research papers, people are increasingly aware of the many health benefits walnuts provide.”

Currently, walnuts are the fourth leading export from the state of California and account for a total of  $1.5 billion in farm gate revenue.