Positive Outlook for the California Walnut Industry, After Years of Challenges

Brian GermanIndustry, Nuts & Grapes, Walnuts

The California walnut industry is poised for a turnaround in 2023. Industry optimism follows a string of challenging years marked by drought, poor returns for growers, COVID-related market disruptions, supply chain issues, and a devastating 2022 heatwave. However, the coming season is anticipated to be a good one for the industry, according to the California Walnut Board/California Walnut Commission.

California Walnut Industry

The improved quality of the walnuts is attributed to favorable growing conditions. Heavy winter rains helped to restore soil moisture and nurtured robust root systems, aiding trees in withstanding high late-season temperatures. Ample water supply from an extensive snowpack also supported healthy tree growth across all regions. Adequate chilling hours promoted winter dormancy, and mild spring temperatures facilitated vibrant tree canopies, fostering strong pollination and yielding abundant nut sets.

Veteran growers have noted the trees’ improved resilience to higher temperatures compared to previous years under stress. The orchards’ full leaf canopy provided effective temperature regulation and sun protection, resulting in even growth with minimal sunburn. Despite prior challenges that led to some growers removing orchards, the industry still maintains substantial production acreage. The California Walnut Board’s survey highlighted a decline in acreage for the first time, with more reductions anticipated as growers shift to other crops.

Positive signs continue with strong production capacity despite orchard removals, with about 380,000 producing acres and 37,000 younger non-bearing acres. The California Walnut Board’s monthly shipment report revealed high sales commitments, virtually depleting the available inventory. A promising global market outlook stems from the anticipation of a Chilean walnut shortage, along with limited export-quality walnut supplies globally. Domestic sales have surged by 28 percent, supported by intensified retailer promotions, which will likely extend into the U.S. holiday season.

Acknowledging the industry’s recent struggles, the California Walnut Commission has been proactive in aiding growers. Collaborative efforts secured a significant USDA Section 32 purchase of up to $90 million, channeled towards moving the crop into food banks. Additionally, the recent 20 percent reduction in tariffs by India is expected to bolster the industry’s presence in the Indian market. Overall, the 2023 season holds the promise of a resurgent California walnut industry, propelled by improved quality, robust production, and strategic market initiatives.

Brian German
Ag News Director / AgNet West