Tree nut production in general this year has been referred to as a nut glut and walnut growers are part of those statistics as their product continues to get more popular -- not only in the kitchen, but as a grab-and-go snack.
Recently released USDA/NASS Objective Measurement statistics show the 2020 walnut crop coming in at 780,000 short tons, a jump of 19% over last year’s harvest.
Depending on your point of view, you can either praise or blame “new acreage, more densely-planted orchards, and heavier-yielding varieties,” says Robert Driver, California Walnut Commission chairman.
“The industry has been expecting these increases given our continue growth,” he says. “Demand creation for future crop utilization has been years in the making, focusing on growing sales in both the domestic and international market.”
The growing demand and the large crop represents tremendous growth opportunity in all sectors of the U.S. market, according to Michelle Connelly, director and CEO of the California Walnut Board and Commission.
“With average consumer consumption of walnuts at slightly over half a pound per year, there’s an exceptional opportunity to further develop consumers’ love of walnuts,” she says.
She is on record as expecting a heavy bearing year with nut sets looking heavy and varietals that did not produce well last year rebounding this time around.
With product about to be sitting on the doorstep, efforts are underway to expand retail grocery presence through national promotional campaigns.
“Beyond food manufacturers and food services, our goal is to make snacking our top consumer use,” adds CWB/CWC’s domestic marketing director Jennifer Olsmstead.
With exporting and tariffs in the mix and accounting for more than 60% of annual shipment volumes, the industry is adapting to tariff market challenges and pursuing new walnut markets. “We can further diversity our business segments as COVID-19 has actually aided retail segment sales,” adds fellow marketing representative Todd Ramos.
With a Federal Walnut Marketing Order in the balance (if approved by a vote of growers, it would come into effect in the 2020-2021 season), the “development of new walnut applications is critical to the expansion of our market and while handlers are already making investments, this program is poised to take things to the next level,” in the opinion of CWC Executive Committee Chair Bill Tos.
An ‘investment in the future’
“California walnut growers are making an investment in the future, continuing our objective of keeping demand ahead of supply,” says Tos. “The industry’s investment, planning, and foresight have set the stage for continuing success as walnut production had doubled in the last 15 years with new acreage reaching 380,000 acres and an additional 75,000 acres set to come into production.”
Taking it even a step further, CWC Chairman Driver, told Western Farm Press: “Given the significant increases in bearing acreage (now approaching a milestone of 400,000 acres), that alone contributes to a larger crop. In addition, a leading factor in this year’s anticipated record crop will be nut sets per tree, up consistently from 2019 across the growing regions and walnut varieties -- an overall 22% increase.
“Early irrigation, low chilling hours, and a prolonged leaf-out stage all resulted in tree limbs laden with nuts,” Driver says. “With 75,000 acres set to come into production over the next five years, there’s tremendous opportunity for the industry.”
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