Tracy-area agriculturists involved in the walnut industry have welcomed news that nine California congressmen have urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to facilitate the federal government’s purchase of walnuts.

The urging came in the form of a bipartisan letter to Perdue signed by the congressmen from walnut-growing areas who are aware of the harm caused to the California walnut industry by retaliatory tariffs levied by top export partners including China, Turkey and India.

“From tariff actions alone, what was a $1.5 billion industry two years ago has declined by more than 41 percent to $878.8 million,” the letter pointed out.

Signing the letter were Reps. Josh Harder, Devin Nunes, Jim Costa, T.J. Cox, Salud Carbajal, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Jimmy Panetta and Doug LaMatta.

Veteran Tracy walnut grower Keith Robertson said, “From a grower’s perspective, we sit on the sidelines of marketing fights and tariffs that are just penalizing us, so we have to send messages to our government.”

He added:

“Tariffs of 30 percent to 120 percent on walnuts send a message to us as farmers who we can work with and sell to, and if they make it impossible to market our commodities with them, we need to open other markets and abandon theirs,” he said.

Robertson pointed out that buying healthy, nutritious nuts like walnuts and almonds for domestic use and distribution would be a wise move by the USDA and would be helping the U.S. instead of fighting with other countries.

Chris Reece, manager of the Great Pacific Nut Co., which processes and markets walnuts and other nuts, reported that the programs available to the USDA have been effective for walnuts in the past and are much appreciated from a marketer’s perspective.

“Large USDA purchases typically have a quick impact on market price, as the entire industry is made aware of the purchase,” he said. “In an industry currently full of headwinds, it can provide a much-needed tailwind to boost demand and overall grower returns.”

Reece noted the walnut industry was projecting a record crop for the 2020 harvest, and many processors are facing delays in shipments of the 2019 crop due to lingering COVID-19 concerns.

“This has led to a current market price that is near the cost of production,” he said. “That coupled with land payments, overhead, etc. will be a serious issue facing growers in California.”

According to Reece, more and more information is being published about the health benefits of eating walnuts, noting that an opportunity to distribute healthy walnuts to food banks would be “a win-win for growers and those in need of nutrition.”

Contact Sam Matthews at shm@tracypress.com or 830-4234.

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