The California English walnut industry has a profusion of challenges and successes in its sights, including the short- and long-term impact of the state’s drought on the state’s number two tree nut crop and unlocking its genome in the next few years.

“Water is the top issue on everyone’s mind in California agriculture,” says Dennis Balint, executive director of the California Walnut Board (CWB) and chief executive officer of the California Walnut Commission (CWC).

The CWB-CWC represents California’s estimated 4,000 growers and more than 100 handlers. The CWB is funded by mandatory assessments of handlers while the CWC receives dollars via mandatory grower assessments.

Water is an extremely sensitive issue, Balint says, as the water demands of a growing state population and those of agriculture exceed the available liquid supply.

“Two-thirds of the nation’s specialty crops are grown in California. Water is the key to its future success,” said the walnut leader.

Balint delved into a plethora of walnut issues - water, acreage, record grower prices, exports, pests and diseases, and others – this spring during a question and answer exchange at the CWB-CWC office in Folsom, Calif.

While the California drought is front-and-center on most everyone’s radar screen, Balint says the walnut industry could have a slight water edge over its tree nut competitors – almonds (the state’s top nut crop in total production) and pistachios (ranked third).

Much of the state’s walnut crop is grown in the northern part of the Central Valley where water is typically more available than the valley’s central and southern sections. What all three nut industries have in common is water-saving drip irrigation.

“Anyone serious about the tree nut business for the long term or anyone who has planted a new variety is growing nuts with drip irrigation,” Balint says.

Water use for walnuts can vary across the state. In Tehama County, a mature walnut orchard generally requires about 42 inches of water annually.