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Tracing Tracy Territory

Nuts take over as top agricultural product

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Walnut harvest

Kyle Robertson, holding infant daughter Lillian, and Zac Reece, look over walnuts being carried by conveyor belt into a set of double trailers for movement to a huller and dryer.

It’s the first week of October, and for many decades that signaled the canning tomato harvest, long the centerpiece of farming in the Tracy area, was coming down the home stretch.

But those days are rapidly becoming history. Row crops, especially tomatoes and beans, are giving way to orchards, and of course that means almonds, which have become the king of Central Valley farming. And there’s also a growing presence of walnut orchards and plantings of cherries and pistachios as well.

Yes, we can still see scattered fields of tomatoes being machine-harvested, but those are becoming fewer each year until only a handful can be counted this harvest season.

The almond harvest has already reached its peak, but it still has a ways to go before it is finished.

It’s the walnut harvest that is just beginning to get in gear. To see how it was going, I went out Wednesday to Banta Road southeast of town with Dave Kaiser, fellow coffee-sipper and retired farmer who likes to keep up with harvesting progress, to see how Kyle Robertson and his crew of J&K Robertson Family were doing.

“This is day one of the harvest; we’re just getting started,”

Kyle reported as Dave and I drove up to the area where walnuts that had been swept up in a 46-acre orchard after being shaken from the trees were being moved on a conveyor belt system into a set of double trailers. Next stop for the walnuts is a huller where the hulls are removed and the nuts dried before they arrive at the Great Pacific Nut Co. processing plant on Lehman Road.

As Kyle and Zack Reece, who drove the shuttle truck carrying the walnuts from the orchard, looked over the walnuts moving along the conveyor belt, they liked what they saw.

“These are the Tulare variety, and they look good with only a minimum of sunburn. We shaked twice to preserve the light color,” Kyle reported. “The Chandlers (the most-popular walnut variety) will be ready to harvest in 10 days.”

The walnut harvest in most Tracy area orchards will continue through October, and by that time, the J&K Robertson Family crew will have harvested close to 200 acres of walnuts.

Initial statewide reports of the California walnut harvest had predicted a 15 percent decline in yields from last year’s bumper crop. A series of frosty mornings in late November into December delayed leafing out of trees and reduced nut size, but that impacted orchards on the east side of the Central Valley more than those on the west side, including the Tracy area, Kyle reported.

Aside from a quality crop, the most-welcome news in the California walnut industry is that after suffering a steep dip in price a year go with the average price sinking to between 60 and 70 cents a pound to growers, the average price has climbed to $1.15 a pound with a few cents more for Chandlers, reported Chris Reece at Great Pacific Nut Co.

As more young orchards, mostly almonds and walnuts, come into production, trees will become an even more dominant source of the fruit of Tracy area farming.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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