This week will be our final delivery of CSA boxes for 2023. Our next delivery will be on Weds., January 10th, 2024.
Last week I talked a bit about the “Nut Recession of 2023” that resulted when an oversupply of nuts ran smack into a fall in demand due to Covid, inflation and a recession in China. Walnut growers have suffered the brunt of this recession because unlike almonds and pistachios, they can be grown all over the world instead of in just a few countries.
After last year’s harvest, the price paid to Walnut growers fell by 50-80% compared to the price they had received in 2021. If you buy walnuts at the grocery store, you likely did not notice much change in the price you paid for them — perhaps five or ten percent at most. As often happens with food prices, the supply chain of processors, distributors and retailers “absorbed” the difference and are making a tidy profit.
Walnuts are the most widely planted crop in Terra Firma’s hometown of Winters and have been for at least twenty years. So agriculture here was hit especially hard when the walnut price collapsed. After last year’s harvest, the air here was filled with the sounds of chainsaws and giant excavators cutting down trees and tearing out stumps. Thousands of acres of orchards were removed just in the area around our town. Those farmers are still trying to figure out what they will plant next.
The timing was a bit awkward for us, as 2022 marked the first harvest from our new walnut orchard, planted in 2015. I am fairly certain we were the only nut farmers in town who were celebrating.
For many years, we had farmed a small, very old walnut orchard on the first piece of land we farmed, and distributed the nuts through our CSA. But eventually the orchard became unproductive and we had to tear it out. We now grow vegetables in that spot.
Planting an orchard is quite different from planting vegetables. If you get something wrong — the spacing between the trees, or the irrigation system, for example — there is no way to change it other than to remove the orchard. And you have to live with those mistakes for a long, long time. Walnut orchards generally live for 30 years or more.
We made plenty of mistakes when we planted our walnuts, but the trees kept growing and this year produced a very respectable crop. And because we market the walnuts directly to you, our CSA subscribers, we don’t have to worry about the global commodity markets.
You may notice that there is a correlation between rainy weather and walnuts in your boxes. That’s because walnuts are harvested just once a year, in October, and stored for the rest of the year in our coolers. We tend to put them in your boxes when it’s too wet to harvest other crops, or when we’re trying to minimize how much time our crew has to spend out in the rain. This week certainly fit the bill. It also made a nice synergy with the coming year-end holidays, which provide all kinds of opportunities to use the nuts.
We at Terra Firma wish you a happy holiday season. We appreciate your support over the past year and look forward to continuing to provide you and your family with healthy, organic fruits, vegetables — and of course, nuts — in 2024.