Walnuts never have the delicate snowy white beauty of almonds in the springtime. But the plain-looking walnut more than makes up for its lack of floral glamour when it comes to production ranking and value – that is, as far as San Joaquin County is concerned.
In 2012, the latest agricultural report from the San Joaquin County Ag Commissioner Scott Hudson, walnuts galloped to the number two position in the county’s Top 10 crops with a total gross value of $457 million. That’s $178 million more than its 2011 third-place ranking that showed a total gross value of $279 million.
Almonds maintained the same No. 4 position in the Top 10 crops ranking for both 2011 ($188 million) and 2012 ($300 million).
When it comes to production value, San Joaquin leads the state in five crops. One of these five is walnuts. The others are apples, asparagus, cherries, and grain corn. All together, these five leading crops represented nearly a third – specifically 29 percent – of the county’s total agricultural value. All five generated $833,452,000.
“We’ve always been the number one walnut grower production county in the state,” Hudson said.
But recent years have seen an upswing of acreage planted to walnuts, contributing to the nut’s impressive climb to second place in San Joaquin’s Top 10 crops, he pointed out.
“The value of the crop has increased, and so planting has increased,” he noted.
The acreage has consistently grown in the last few years, Hudson said. Last year alone, there were 53,000 acres of walnuts in San Joaquin. Most of the walnut orchards are located in the north county area, mostly in Linden, he said. But there are also walnut growers in the South County area such as Ripon and Escalon, although not as many as those found in the north, he said.
The big driving force in the popularity of walnuts among farmers is the price, Hudson said.
For farmers, the biggest consideration is price and profitability, he said. All crops have their certain “quirks” about them that make them easier to grow, or harder to grow than others.
In general, he said, “walnuts are not the most difficult crop to grow.”
At the same time, like with any crop or business for that matter, “you still have to know what you’re doing and be a good farmer to get a good crop and make the maximum profit,” Hudson said.
Production-wise, San Joaquin County walnuts are all English walnuts but these are grafted onto a different variety and that is what is grown here, he explained. And that explains why the walnuts that you see in orchards have a black color at the base of their trunks. Those are the English walnuts grafted on the more durable and disease resistant black walnut root stock.
In the last five years, the value of San Joaquin’s walnut crop has nearly quadrupled. In addition to the increased acreage, that rapid increase was driven by a strong export market, Hudson said.
“There’s a worldwide market demand for walnuts,” he said.
Emerging markets such as China, India, and Turkey – outside of the country’s traditional export markets abroad – have helped fuel the recent rapid increase in exports.
That strong export market has built up a greater demand, both domestic and international, for San Joaquin’s walnut crop, he added.
And while price is cyclical, like anything else, the current price value for the county’ walnut crop is “the best in a long time,” Hudson said.
WALNUT FACTS AND TRIVIA
(From the 2012 Agricultural Commissioner’s Report)
•The early English merchant mariners transported and traded walnuts throughout the world’s ancient ports becoming known as the “English Walnut”. Interestingly, England has never grown walnuts commercially.
• California’s first commercial planting of walnuts was in 1867 near Santa Barbara. Seventy years later, in a historical horticultural move, the Central Valley production began.
• Franciscan priests brought walnuts to California in the late 1700’s, and today California walnuts account for 99% of U.S. and 75% of the world’s production.
San Joaquin County’s 2012 Top Ten crops and values
• 1 Grapes - $549M (up from No. 2 or $287M in 2012)
• #2 Walnuts - $457, up from No. 3 in 2011 - $279M
• #3 Milk - $404M, down from being #1 in 2011 at $453M.
• #4 Almonds – remain #4 in 2011-2012, but total value jumped from $188M in 2011 to $300M in 2012
• #5 Cherries - $225M, up from No. 7 in 2011 at $89M
• #6 Tomatoes - $103M, down from #5 in 2011 at $108M
• #7 Hay - $90M, down from a #6 position in 2011 but with the same total gross value of $90M
•#8 Silage Corn - $72M, up from #10 in 2011 at $63M
• #9 Grain Corn - $70M, up from 2011 gross total value of $68M but in the same ranking.
• 10 Cattle, calves – $67M, down from #8 in 2011 at $71M