In fact, the quality of the nuts was very good until rain moved into the Sacramento Valley on Oct. 6. That storm, which dropped about two-thirds of an inch of rain on his orchards, was accompanied four days later by a second storm. All together, Norene recorded more than 2 inches of rain in less than week.

That rain delayed the fieldwork and added to drying time for the nuts. What’s more, the warm, humid conditions that followed lowered the quality and value of the crop.

“We ended up with a lot of walnuts on the ground,” Norene says. “That hurt the color of the nuts, especially the Chandlers. Normally, about 90 percent of our Chandlers have the desirable light color. This year we were down to about 65 percent to 75 percent lights. This wasn’t unique to my orchards or our neighbors. It was an issue this year throughout the industry.”

The muggy conditions after the rains also increased mold growth, particularly in his Hartleys. However, except for three orchards, where he was going through a second time to glean any nuts still on the trees, he had had pretty much wrapped up his harvest by the start of November. So had his neighbors.

By then, estimates Norene, who is chairman of the Walnut Bargaining Association, about 90 percent of California’s 2011 walnut crop had been harvested.

As the first week of November got underway, growers in Butte County were pushing hard to wrap up harvesting their walnut crop ahead of rain forecast for later in the week. Most of them didn’t start picking the nuts until mid-September. That’s at least three weeks later than usual, reports Joe Connell, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor.

In addition to creating some bottlenecks with harvesting and drying operations, the early October rain resulted in some darker nuts and more mold than growers would have liked, he notes. “But, after that, we had some great drying weather and growers were able to move along fairly well with the rest of the harvest,” Connell says. “Although it may not be quite as good as last year, most growers are looking at a fairly decent crop this year.”

Norene attributes the drop in walnut production that he and other growers experienced this year to the spring weather. “It was a little too cool and a little too damp for a little too long,” he says.

Rains at the beginning and end of June, when the weather is typically dry, didn’t help, either.

“Overall, our crop is down a touch from our three-year average,’ Norene says. “Our early varieties were off significantly. Our Vinas were the most disappointing. They were off about 35 percent. However, our Chandlers were down only about 5 percent to 10 percent.”