Tim Merrill, sales and marketing manager for Omega Walnuts in Orland, Calif., designed the processing facility of premium walnuts. Construction started in early 2012 with its first walnuts for processing received later the same year.
Walnut popularity increasing
Omega Walnuts is located several miles east of Orland, a small community in the heart of northern California’s Sacramento Valley. Walnuts are a popular crop in Glenn County, and in neighboring Butte and Tehama counties.
Combined, the three counties produced nearly 161,000 tons of walnuts on more than 79,000 acres in 2012. Leading walnut producing counties in California include San Joaquin, Butte, Stanislaus, Sutter and Tulare counties. Statewide walnut production in 2012 totaled about 470,000 tons on about 245,000 acres.
New planting strategies that include more trees per acre are largely responsible for greater grower returns, Merrill said. Omega Walnuts intends to capitalize on this and improved demand for premium walnuts worldwide. Given that and the company’s quick construction and start-up, Merrill is pleased with their 2013 numbers.
“There’s truly a global demand for walnuts,” Merrill said.
There is plenty of optimism within the market as growers throughout the state increase their walnut acreage. Opportunities for northern California walnut producers continue to be quite good as land prices are more reasonable than elsewhere and water availability tends to be better there than in other parts of the state.
Omega’s mission is simple: maximize grower returns. Omega Walnuts’ growth strategy includes seeking growers of quality walnuts to build on those returns and help the company capitalize on marketing opportunities within the industry.
“We have tremendous upper-end markets,” Merrill continued.
Omega’s walnuts are currently marketed around the globe, with buyers in Japan, Korea, the Middle East, Australia and South America. With more growers agreeing to process and market through Omega, Merrill says the opportunities to fill expanding world markets will continue to grow for the company.
Merrill cites current supply and demand for the recent success of the California walnut industry.
“There is a perceived shortage of supply,” said Merrill. “That and the increased demand for walnuts worldwide is having an upward effect on prices.”
Walnut growers around California are reporting record walnut prices.
Much of the marketing success in walnuts continues to be in the health aspects of the nut, Merrill says. The high levels of healthy omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts are a positive marketing tool.
“Our first payment came out this spring and we were very competitive with the other processors out there,” Merrill said. “None of the others were higher than we were.”