Recent storms have California walnut growers breathing a sigh of relief.

"Until a few weeks ago we were worried about the water stored in the soil profile because of the low rainfall totals we’ve had,” says Joe Grant, San Joaquin County University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor. “I think that situation for most growers has largely been taken care of by the rainfall we’ve been getting and hopefully expect to get in the next couple of weeks.

“We’d like to have a fully charged root zone by bud break. For walnuts that’s somewhere around 5-6 feet. I think most guys should be in reasonably good shape.”

Chilling hours have been adequate. “I don’t expect any straggly bloom or straggly leafing out,” Grant says. “We’re coming off a very heavy crop from last year. Walnuts don’t technically alternate bear, but I would expect yields will be down compared to last year. It depends on how spring goes.

“The catkins are pushing out a quarter to half an inch in some of the earlier varieties,” says Andy Dugo, PCA with Mid Valley Agricultural Services in Escalon, Calif. “Water is a concern. We happen to be in a pretty good area right now, but that could all change with the stroke of a pen.”

New plantings are going in, but most of those will utilize well water rather than district water, according to Dugo. “If you’ve got well water, you’re in tall cotton right now. Our well water is pretty good quality. We do have some problems with bicarbonates, but it’s treatable.”

Even the water districts that serve Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties where he consults are in better shape than some other areas. “There’s been talk that these districts here might limit us to 30 inches or three feet of water, but that’s an adequate amount to grow a tree if you use it properly,” he says.