Mid-September marked the start of harvesting for this year’s weather-delayed California walnut crop — and it was none too soon.
With supply lines empty, buyers were beginning to run out of walnuts. Meanwhile growers, seeking to avoid the damage many of them suffered last year from late-season rain, scurried into action to begin getting walnuts off the trees as quickly as possible.
Alpine Pacific Nut Co., Hughson, Calif., which processes about 20 million tons of walnuts annually, began shelling its first varieties – Ashley, Payne and Serr — Sept.17, a good 10 to 12 days later than normal.
“Although nut size is down, yields are excellent,” says Kenny Dickens, the company’s operations manager. “Quality of the crop is strong and prices are at a level where we’re able to move the nuts.”
Despite the late start, the harvest could wind down pretty much as usual by Thanksgiving, since the later varieties aren’t expected to be as far behind in maturity as the early ones.
Growers have been doing what they could to speed things up as much as a week to 10 days by spraying more ethrel than usual. But, no matter how fast growers can shake, sweep and pick up nuts, everything hinges on processing speed. Toward the end of September, hulling capacity was limiting the ability to ship more walnuts.
Dickens isn’t surprised by the high quality of this year’s nuts. “Their color is excellent and we’re seeing a fairly low number of defects,” he says. “Also, meat yields are running much higher than last year.”