English Walnuts Profile
By Hayley Boriss, Henrich Burnke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Revised March 2013 by Diane Huntrods, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Two major varieties of walnuts are grown in the United States—the English walnut and the black walnut. The English walnut originated in Persia (now Iran). The commercially produced varieties are nearly all hybrids of the English walnut. The Northern California black walnut is primarily used as the rootstock for English walnut cultivars.
California produces 99 percent of the nation’s commercial English walnuts with almost all production taking place in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.
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). Diamond Foods, a former cooperative that went public in 2005, is one of the largest U.S. processors of walnuts (ERS 2005).
The California walnut industry is made up of more than 4,000 walnut growers and about 80 walnut processors. Two main organizations oversee industry advertising efforts and regulation—the Walnut Marketing Board, established by a Federal Marketing Order for walnuts in 1948, and the California Walnut Commission, established through the California State Legislature in 1987. The Walnut Marketing Board is responsible for the U.S. quality control regulation, which mandates that all walnuts be inspected and certified as meeting strict USDA specifications. The Walnut Marketing Board also provides industry analysis and general domestic marketing services. The California Walnut Commission is primarily responsible for international market development.
Prior to 1993, per capita consumption of walnuts remained relatively stable at about 0.5 pounds per capita. In 1993, consumption fell to under 0.4 pound per capita, and after increasing in 1994, fell again in the two succeeding years. However, since the low in 1996 of 0.3 pound, per capita consumption of walnuts has been on the rise. In 2009 per capita consumption of all walnuts was 0.55 pound.
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. In addition, a 2005 report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) suggests that the increased consumption in 2004 was due in part to the introduction of McDonald’s fruit and walnut salad, which had an impact on consumption both directly, by increasing sales, and indirectly, by reminding consumers of alternative uses of walnuts.
China is the leading producer of walnuts in the world, followed by the United States. Together, the two countries account for over 75 percent of total production. The majority of China’s production is consumed domestically, but a limited amount of Chinese production meets the international standards for quality. Ukraine and the European Union are also leading producers of walnuts. (FAS 2012)
The United States produced 461,000 tons of walnuts in 2011, down from 2010. The U.S. value of walnut production that year totaled $1.3 billion. Walnut production in 2012 is forecast at 470,000 tons, up 2 percent from the previous year. (NASS 2013)
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.
Production of walnuts has oscillated over the last two decades but has also followed an increasing trend. Much of the variability in production is due to the alternate bearing nature of walnut trees. Similarly, yields per acre have also been variable over the years and also have shown more significant increases in the last decade. Walnut yields have generally increased from about 1.2 tons per acre in the early 1980s to 2.1 tons per acre in 2010 (NASS 2013).
The average size walnut farm in California is 46 acres, and most orchards are family owned or individually held farms (ERS 2005). Bearing acreage of walnuts remained relatively stable from 1980 into the early 1990s. Acreage increases were noticeable after 1993, when each subsequent year acreage remained either at present levels or increased. In 2011, bearing acreage reached 245,000 acres, up from 178,000 in 1992 (NASS 2013).
After a walnut sapling is planted, it takes five to seven years for it to grow into an adult tree suitable for harvesting. Although many varieties of walnuts are grown in California, six account for over 75 percent of total production: Hartley, Chandler, Serr, Vina, Franquette and Howard.
Since 1999, walnut prices have increased minimally. Also since 1999, prices for walnuts have been less variable, a trend attributed to continued strong demand both domestically and abroad. In 2011, the season average grower price jumped to $2,900 per ton, up from $2,040 per ton the previous year (NASS 2013).
The United States is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts. In 2012, the nation exported walnuts valued at more than $1.1 billion. Of that amount, $645.7 million, or X percent, was for shelled walnuts. 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 2012)
The United States is a net exporter of walnuts, with U.S. imports of walnuts negligible in comparison. In 2012, the United States imported shelled walnuts valued at $5.6 million, a huge jump from the $442,000 value of the shelled walnuts imported in 2011. More than 70 percent of the walnuts originated in either India or Ukraine. (FAS 2012)
Fact Sheet, California Walnut Industry.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Global Agricultural Trade System, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.
2008 Organic Production Survey, NASS, USDA, 2010.
The U.S. and World Situation: Walnuts, FAS, USDA - Report listed under commodity presentations. This series of graphs provides information on imports and exports of in-shell and shelled walnuts.
Tree Nuts: World Markets & Trade, FAS, USDA.
U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA.
Walnuts: Second Biggest Nut Crop Produced in the United States, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, ERS, USDA, 2005.
Created March 2006 and revised March 2013.