What a difference a year makes for the California walnut industry, which is a key ingredient for cakes, toppings and other fresh bakery products. The California walnut industry is gearing up for a stellar 2023 harvest and shipping season after several years of drought, record low grower returns, COVID disrupted markets with supply chain challenges and a devastating heat wave in September 2022 that negatively impacted the entire crop. Here’s why this season is lining up to be a different story.

Quality is expected to be excellent due to favorable growing conditions.

Last winter’s prolonged heavy rains in the California walnut growing regions helped restore deep soil moisture and provided for healthy root zones, enabling trees to better tolerate late season high temperatures. The state also benefitted from an extensive snowpack which has provided all growing regions with sufficient water to support the trees and the crops through this season.

The much-needed chilling hours were at normal levels, placing the trees into a much-needed deep winter dormancy and a prolonged “rest and recuperation” period. Mild spring temperatures were ideal and produced full, vibrant, vigorous tree canopies which supported strong pollination, resulting in robust nut sets throughout the orchards.

“This year, our trees are more capable of handling higher temperatures than the previous years when the trees were under stress due to long-term deficit irrigation,” commented fourth-generation grower and handler Bill Carriere of Glenn, California. “Long-time growers have commented that the trees have not looked this strong and healthy in at least six to seven years.”

Record low prices, brought on by an oversupply of darker than normal walnut kernels and weak demand in international markets, have taken a toll on growers, some opting to remove orchards from production.

The extent of the acreage shift became more evident in an acreage survey conducted by the California Walnut Board between October 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. For the first time ever, the acreage of California walnuts declined with 23,000 acres removed during the nine-month period. The industry will likely see additional reductions between July and December 2023, as more growers decide to shift to other crops and the needed tree removal equipment becomes available.