A bumper 2014 Chinese walnut crop has put the brakes on Californian walnut imports into Hong Kong and China in recent months, lowering overall US sales volumes and prices, reports www.appeal-democrat.com.
Chinese walnut yields rose 35 per cent above normal this season, satisfying much of the country's domestic demand. As a result, California walnut shipments to Hong Kong in November 2014 fell 60 per cent compared to the prior year, and walnut shipments to mainland China in September-November 2014 were down almost 30m lb, according to data quoted in the article. The price of California walnuts fell US$0.30 in two months to US2.10 per lb, and could continue to fall below the US$2 mark.
Since China is the largest importer of California walnuts, growers could be in for a slowdown after three prosperous years, the report said.
"It's pretty scary to think the Chinese market has that much influence on us, in terms of sales," Chris Silva, president of the California Valley Nut Company is quoted as saying. "This year was an eye opener. I think the price will go down to where we won't see these high prices of over US$2 much longer."
Increasing global demand for California walnuts was the prime driver of a meteoric rise in price from 65 cents/lb in 2008 to US$2.42/lb in 2013, prompting frenzied walnut plantings in California, the report said. In 2013, there were 13,000 acres of walnut orchards in Yuba-Sutter that were still waiting to come into production.
The walnut market could be headed for some uncertain years, and growers will have to wait and see if China's withdrawal from the export market is a long-term trend or a short-term impact, the report said.
"Walnuts in general will be a concern the next few years," Silva said. "People are taking out peaches and prunes and putting in walnuts. They did the same thing with prunes years ago. Everyone planted prunes, and the market went into the tank."
There are bright spots in the market, however. Walnut shipments to India increased by almost 800,000 lb in November 2014 compared to the previous year, a boost of about 850 per cent.