San Joaquin County goes nuts for nuts

Walnuts grow in John Galeazzi's orchard in Lockeford on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. At a value of $443 million, walnuts came in second on the list of top 10 crops in San Joaquin County, according to the San Joaquin County Office of Agricultural Commissioner’s official 2013 crop report, which was released Tuesday. Almonds ranked No. 1, bringing in $468 million. Grapes slipped to third with $441 million.

In terms of San Joaquin County crop value, almonds have claimed the throne from grapes, and walnuts are coming on strong, according to the San Joaquin County Office of Agricultural Commissioner’s official 2013 crop report, which was released Tuesday.

On the top 10 crops list, almonds ranked No. 1, bringing in $468 million last year — a huge jump from the $300 million they netted in 2012.

Walnuts came in second with $443 million, $14 million lower than last year.

Grapes slipped down to third with $441 million — a 20 percent decrease in earnings — after being ranked the No. 1 crop in 2012.

Nonetheless, Bruce Fry, a Lodi winegrape grower, said he did well with last year’s harvest and that most growers in Northern San Joaquin County won’t be switching out grapes for nuts.

“Last year was one of the better years,” Fry said. “You know it’s a good year when you can pay your bills.”

When Fry’s family bought the farm in the 1960s, it had an old almond orchard on it, but he said he hasn’t thought twice about returning nuts to the acreage.

“You have to have the right climate,” Fry said.

Bob Brocchini, a Ripon farmer, has grown both grapes and almonds on his land. Even though he has a soft spot for the vineyard, he is planting more almond and walnut trees than grapes these days.

“(There’s just more) worldwide demand for those two crops,” Brocchini said.

The United States is the world’s No. 1 almond producer, and supplies 75 to 80 percent of the world’s almonds. According to the Almond Board of California’s 2013 Almond Almanac, San Joaquin County was projected to be the fourth-largest producer in the state.

The top importers of San Joaquin County almonds are China, Canada, Germany, France and India. In fact, San Joaquin County ships nuts to 92 countries.

“With the exception of Russia — at least right now,” interim Agricultural Commissioner Gary Caseri joked at the meeting where the report was released, referring to current U.S. and Russian sanctions against each other.

In a phone interview, Caseri said that almond orchards are growing in the San Joaquin Valley because the market is more stable, and the light to moderate soil found near and south of Stockton is the perfect growing medium for the crop.

Caseri also noted that grape vineyards in San Joaquin County are down by 6,000 acres, though he said that may be a reflection of normal market changes.

“It just depends,” Caseri said. “Definitely, the almond (production) is increasing. That’s for sure.”

Almonds are used to make flour, paste and flavoring, and can be found in cereals and candies. Almonds are also used to make almond oil, which is commonly used in massages. The shells and hull of an almond are used as livestock feed and bedding.

Almond and walnut production has averaged 16 percent of the county’s total crop product for the past 10 years.

During the 1900s, it was generally accepted that walnuts could not be grown in Northern California, until a lecture by Dr. W. W. Fitzgerald reported in 1914 in the Stockton Record disproved that claim.

Fitzgerald had the only walnut orchard in San Joaquin County in 1914, which made up 100 acres east of Stockton.

Today, there are approximately 60,200 acres of walnut orchards in the county.

The gross value of all agricultural production in San Joaquin County hit an all-time high of $2,921,828,000.

Contact reporter James Striplin at jamess@lodinews.com.

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