By Hayley Boriss, Henrich Burnke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Updated July 2015 by Christina Romero, AgMRC, California Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Two major varieties of walnuts are grown in the United States—the English walnut and the black walnut. The Northern California black walnut is primarily used as the rootstock for English walnut cultivars.
English walnut acreage continues to climb, extending the trend of increased tree nut acreage in the United States, with a 24 percent growth since 2007. California represents virtually all almond, pistachio, and walnut production in the United States. (Fruit and Nut Report, 2015)
Per capita consumption of walnuts has been on the rise. In 2012, the per capita consumption of all walnuts was 0.47 pound.
The United States and California (the number one producing state) produced 565,000 tons of walnuts in 2014, up 15 percent from 2013. The U.S. value of walnut production in 2013 (last reported) totaled $1.8 billion. (NASS 2015)
In 2015, the season average grower price jumped to $3,650 per ton, nearly tripling from $1,280 per ton in 2008 (NASS 2015).
The 2012 Ag Census reports nationwide most orchards are family owned or individually held farms (ERS 2015). In 2014, bearing acreage reached 290,000 acres, up from 218,000 in 2007 (NASS 2015) which indicates acreage is steadily increasing.
According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey (NASS 2010), the United States had 199 farms certified for organic English walnut production. Those farms produced 4,391 tons of nuts valued at $11.1 million.
Walnuts are typically sold as a snack item or for use as an ingredient in candies, cereals and baked goods. More than 70 percent of walnuts are sold as shelled (NASS 2013). Current studies indicate that walnuts are full of nutrients which both enhance health and prevent cancer. (AIRC.org).
The California walnut industry is made up of more than 4,000 walnut growers and about 100 walnut processors. Two main organizations oversee industry advertising efforts and regulation the Walnut Marketing Board and the California Walnut Commission.
Industry-supported research found that walnut consumption provides health benefits because it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and other antioxidants associated with a healthy heart and a potential reduction of cancer cell growth (ERS 2005). The publicity surrounding these results has helped stimulate walnut demand.
Global walnut production for 2014/15 is estimated to rise 10 percent from the previous year to 1.8 million tons, with China and the United States accounting for 80 percent of total output. World exports, dominated by the United States and Ukraine, are expected to decrease 4 percent to 495,000 tons. (FAS 2015)
U.S. exports have risen slightly to 320,000 tons on stable demand in Europe and increased market share in China. (FAS 2015)
Top destinations were South Korea, followed by Germany, Japan and Canada. The United States also exported $466.4 million of in-shell walnuts. Top buyers were China and Turkey. (FAS 2015)
Value Added Options
Export market development activities have expanded distribution and fostered product development which has led to increased use of walnuts in the snacking, baking and processed food sectors.
Added markets may be, but not limited to, farmers’ markets, specialty grocery stores, wholesale purveyors, pre-packaged food processors, vegetarian food processors, ethnic markets, and restaurant food purveyors.
Helpful enterprise budgets for English walnuts:
American Institute of Cancer Research, Research studies.
California Walnut Industry, Industry Reports
Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2015.
Global Agricultural Trade System, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.
U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA.
Created March 2006 and revised August 2015.