Except for varied leafout of his Chandler walnuts and loss of nutlets in the Vinas, Sutter County, Calif., walnut grower Donald Norene has no major concerns about his crop at this point.
Norene Ranches, Inc., near Rio Oso, also grows Ashley, Chico, Hartley and Howard varieties. Of his 700 acres of trees, 84 percent are currently in production.
“For the most part I’m satisfied with the set and amount of walnuts on the trees,” he says. “The set on the Hartleys and Howards looks good, and the Ashleys and Chicos are loaded with clean, plump nutlets. Overall, the nuts are somewhat smaller than normal for the end of May; that’s similar to last year.
“I don’t see a massive set in this area and many varieties, especially the later-leafing ones, mainly Chandler at this time, continue to push pistillate flowers. So, I’m hesitant to predict a record crop. But, by some accounts from around the state, there’s a potential for a record — even on my farm.
Norene, currently chairman of the Walnut Bargaining Association, has served on its board of directors for the past 19 years and has been growing walnuts since 1964 when he helped plant an Ashley orchard as an FFA project. That orchard stayed in production 35 years before he replanted it to Chandlers.
In the first part of May, Norene noticed a wide variation in the Chandler leafout — some limbs were well advanced, while leaf development on others was much retarded.
“Growers from Modesto north to Red Bluff have told me of seeing the same symptoms on their Chandlers,” he says. “It seems to be a problem that occurs with cool spring weather, or perhaps freeze damage from last November.”
As a result, he’s seeing big differences nut size on the Chandlers. Some are quite small, others fairly large.
“The uniformity of the set was disappointing,” Norene says. “One limb may have a lot of walnuts, while the one next to it may have a lot of leaves and shoots, but no nuts. It creates a little anxiety about the crop load.”
He is also a little uneasy about his Vinas. Following a very good nut set, he says, they sloughed off quite a few nutlets. While not all that unusual, it still concerns him.
What the crop needs, Norene says, is warm temperatures and dry conditions. On May 25, for example, the weather continued cool and wet, with temperatures no higher than the mid-50s. The forecast for the following week called for more overcast, showery conditions.
“There’s a potential for a really big crop this year, but we need some cooperation from Mother Nature in the form of improved weather.”
The industry could use another bin-busting harvest, Norene says. Last year’s record crop of 501,500 tons is sold out
“We need another record crop to meet demand. Our greatest concern is that the industry won’t be able to supply all the walnuts the world wants.”
Dry weather in April through the first half of May minimized the threat of walnut blight. This year Norene has been applying more blight treatments (copper plus Manzate) than usual because of the wet weather — as many as 4.5 treatments average for early-leafing varieties, such as Ashley and Vina. Chandlers had received two blight sprays through the end of May.
Although codling moth usually isn’t a big problem in his area, he has been catching more moths in traps this spring than in the last few years.
Green fruitworm hasn’t been a problem this season. To control it, he begins spraying Bacillus thuringiensis beginning mid-April.
“The worm is hard to control with the softer material after it gets established,” Norene notes. He combines the Bt with blight sprays once the trees have leafed out sufficiently. He plans to continue treating for green fruitworm through the first part of June or until the weather turns warm.