Veteran walnut grower and processor Ron Martella looks for California’s walnut production this year to be in line with estimates of an all-time high of around 515,000 tons. This estimate by growers and processors earlier in the season compares to last year’s 460,000-ton crop and would surpass the record 502,000-ton crop of 2010.
With little carryover from the 2011 crop and rumors of a drought-reduced Chinese walnut crop this, a bigger California crop would better meet market demand while limiting any big run-up in prices, as occurred last year following the short crop, Martella says. That would be good for everyone in the industry — growers, processors and consumers.
He’s president of Ronald Martella Farms, which includes 800 acres of walnut orchards. His son, Aaron, is president of Grower Direct Nut Co., Inc., which buys, processes and sells walnuts. Both of the family’s partnerships are based in Hughson, Calif.
In late August, the walnut crop in his area, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, was looking good, Martella reports.
“Up in the Sacramento Valley, growers around Yuba City and north, are concerned about their crop,” he says. “Farther south of here, some growers say the Chandler crop isn’t as heavy as last year. Also, I’ve heard that Vinas had quite a bit of nut drop from blight earlier in the season.”
(For more, see: 2012 California walnut production 2 percent larger)
In addition, the early-maturing Vinas and Tulares. suffered some sunburn damage from hot weather in early August, he points out. “But, I think they are early enough this year and the hot spell didn’t last long to cause very many dark nuts,” Martella says.
In 2011, he notes, both Chandlers and Tulares produced exceptionally light crops. “Everything looks better this season,” he says. “The Chandlers have many more doubles and triples than last year.”
Last year, the market price of Chandlers opened at around $3.60 per meat pound as the harvest began. They continued climbing, reaching the $4.50 to $5-per-pound range. That was too high, in Martella’s view.
“We don’t want to dampen product movement this year with prices that are higher than the market can bear,” he says.
He’s hoping the opening price for 2012 walnuts this year is similar to last year. “A meat price in the $3.70 to $3.85 range should be pretty good for everyone,” Martella says. “It would be fair. Although it could move up a little, it should remain fairly stable through the year. This would help both growers and processors by removing a lot of uncertainty from the market.”
One longer-term challenge he sees for the industry will be to continue expanding the market for walnuts. “A lot of walnut trees are being planted out there,” Martella says. “If we’re going to sell all those nuts at a good price, we’ll definitely have to increase demand.”