Despite diminished yields and quality, market prices and spot market sales have strengthened this year. That follows the trend for last year’s crop, as strong demand continued to push prices higher throughout the marketing season. “The fact that this year’s prices opened on the high side indicates that the market is stabilizing at a higher level,” Jelavich says.

In a trend that started a few years ago, the spot market continues to pick up steam. Buyers, especially from Turkey and China, have been much more active this year in offering pre-harvest contracts for cash on delivery.

Norene sees bright prospects as the 2011 walnut crop is sold. “Depending on how the quality holds up, I’m very optimistic that we’ll see some of the highest prices ever,” he says.

Opening market prices for the 2011 crop were $1.65 to $1.75 per pound for in-shell Hartleys and Chandlers, Jelavich reports. Jelavich is a director of the Walnut Bargaining Association.

They have risen more than 10 cents since the first of September. Meanwhile, meat prices in early November were in the $4.20- to $4.30-per-pound range. That’s an increase of 30 to 40 cents per shelled pound, despite opening the 2011season a dollar higher than 2010.

“Last year was the third year in a row of a record size walnut crop and we sold the entire crop even as prices continued climbing,” Jelavich says. “As a result there was a pent-up demand for this year’s crop before the marketing season started. So, the prospects of selling all of our 2011 walnuts are excellent.”

Still, considering the market’s momentum, a larger 2011 crop would have been better for California’s growers than a smaller one, he says. For one thing, with more nuts to sell, growers would have made more money and expanded into new markets.

A bigger crop of walnuts this year also would have been better for the longer-term, he contends. “Some people may not get the walnuts this year, either because there won’t be enough or the price will be higher than they want to pay,” Jelavich says. “If we don’t continue to supply the growing market that we’ve built up over the last three years, buyers will find alternative products.”