California’s fall walnut harvest is coming in bigger than expected, and while that could mean farmers will see smaller crop payments, in coming months consumers should get relief from what had been record high walnut prices.
Federal estimates at the opening of the annual crop season in September forecast a record 545,000-ton walnut harvest.
Initial receipts of nuts by handlers, companies that process, package and market walnuts, seemed to point to a somewhat smaller crop, perhaps short of 540,000 tons.
The California Walnut Board, however, recently reported that statewide handlers had received 558,000 tons as of Nov. 30.
Given usual trends as farmers wrap up deliveries this month, the final crop may total close to 563,000 tons, said Pete Turner, an industry consultant and president of the California Independent Handlers Coalition.
That would make the California harvest about 3% above the fall forecast and a whopping 12% larger than the previous state record of 504,000 tons in 2010. It’s also 14% more than last year’s 492,000 ton crop.
“Most of us were surprised,” Turner said of the walnut handlers.
But it is not entirely surprising, given the ongoing planting of new walnut orchards statewide. What the industry calls bearing acreage, trees producing walnuts, was estimated at 290,000 acres this year, compared to 255,000 bearing acres in 2010, the previous record year.
Coming into the fall, strong global demand for walnuts and scant supplies pushed prices to record levels.
This year’s big crop has covered that scarcity and prices are softening, Turner said.
“It’s fairly certain it’s going to go down,” he said, “but how far it’s going to go …?”
The market also is developing larger price spreads between different types and quality of walnuts.
Prices are holding up best on Chandler walnuts, a variety that produces a more desirable, lighter nutmeat, while other varieties and especially darker nutmeats are seeing larger price declines, Turner said.