California's nut outlook promises ample supplies

09/16/2009 03:51:50 PM
Don Schrack

The aromas of those fall baked goods crammed with nuts, and the holiday stuffing also crammed with nuts, are just weeks away.
 
Those nutty ingredients may force shoppers to dig deeper into their grocery budgets this fall.

Don Schrack
Staff Writer

The forecast for the 2009-10 California walnut crop is 415,000 tons, down from last year’s record harvest of 436,000 tons but still good enough for the state’s second biggest harvest ever. The abundance of the nuts will not mean bargain basement prices, however.

The harvest will begin in earnest next month. It will fill a pipeline that is virtually empty of the lighter walnut varieties, said Paul Reynolds of Meridian Nut Growers LLC, Clovis, Calif.

A small supply of some of the darker nuts most often used for commercial baking may still be found in the carry over, he said.

Last year, walnut prices started strong and then fluctuated all over the map, he said. With the near empty pipeline, Reynolds anticipates prices will remain strong most of the year.

Pecan prospects

Pecan lovers get a break this season, which is an up year for the commodity. Pecans, not unlike some other crops, cycle year-to-year from a heavy crop to a light crop. The 2009 crop is a heavy crop year, Reynolds said.

The volume for the U.S. and Mexico could exceed 500 million pounds, with domestic production expected to fall between 320 million and 340 million pounds.

California is known for bragging on its giant walnut, pistachio and almond crops. No bragging about size yet for the growing but small pecan industry.

The state barely makes it into the top ten among pecan producers. Georgia remains the undisputed pecan king, with New Mexico and Texas falling in behind.

Reynolds said China is just waiting for pecans to hit the market, so retailers will have tough competition for the pecans. He expects very strong demand in late October and early November.

Pistachios

The California pistachio harvest got under way the week of Sept. 7, said Rich Matoian, executive director of the Western Pistachio Association, Fresno.

Problems for offshore producers should mean another strong season for the domestic growers, most of which are based in the Southwest, California, Arizona and New Mexico.

In California, the crop’s 2009 farm gate value is projected to be about $560 million, Matoian said.

To put that figure in perspective, the value of the almond crop is projected to be double that value, with walnuts falling in between.

Despite California’s infamous water woes, almond supplies will make even the most critical baker happy this season, grower-shippers said. Another solid year is projected.

The projected volumes will do nothing but enhance the aforementioned aromas. Prices notwithstanding, it looks to be another waistline-challenging holiday season.

E-mail dschrack@thepacker.com

What’s your take on California’s nut outlook? Leave a comment to tell us your views.



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