Bob Lea grows English walnuts on 350 acres in Woodland in Yolo County, including the Howard, Chandler, Vina, and Tehama varieties. Lea kicked off the harvest in early October with hopes to conclude by month’s end.

“The Chandler yields appear larger this year, along with slightly larger Vina and Tehama yields,” Lea said. “The Howards are younger trees which developed good growth this year.”

Lea, a first-generation walnut producer, has grown walnuts for 30 years. He serves on the board of directors of Diamond Foods and as an alternate board member on the California Walnut Commission. Lea is an attorney specializing in civil law; purchasing a 40-acre ranch after completing law school.

The thermometer hit the 100 degree mark only twice this summer on Lea’s home ranch. Twenty days at 100 degrees plus is normal.

“The cooler temperatures will probably result in higher quality walnuts,” Lea said.

Lea’s walnut trees have Black walnut rootstock.

“Black walnut rootstock does better than the Paradox rootstock with the higher levels of boron in the water,” Lea said.

Pest and disease levels were average this year. Lea sprayed twice for the walnut husk fly; three times on one ranch. Puffer-based pheromone mating disruption kept the codling moth out of the Chandler variety.

Lea is always looking for new methods to improve the operation. He has inventoried every tree on two of his three ranches and continually tracks the trees.

“This process was a good learning lesson for us,” Lea noted. “You can see which practices work and which don’t work. You get to know your trees better. Each tree is individual and in a way has its own DNA. One-size-fits-all management does not always work.”

2010 California walnut production is expected to reach 510,000 tons, up 17 percent from 2009 (437,000 tons), according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Lea is bullish on the industry’s future.

“It’s good to have a stable crop that the market knows will be supplied year after year,” Lea explained. “The walnut crop has become more stable over the years. We don’t have the large ups-and-downs that we used to have. Buyers worldwide can rely on our production to meet their needs. That’s a good thing.” 

cblake@farmpress.com