California Walnuts: A Sustainable Industry

By Carolyn Pickel - Area IPM advisor, Emeritus - UC Cooperative Extension

Sustainability for the California walnut industry must be economically viable for walnut growers to follow environmentally responsible practices and be socially acceptable by improving quality of life for growers, neighbors, consumers and the public.

The goal is to maintain the industry's reputation for selling high quality, safe, and nutritious walnuts. The California walnut industry's sustainability project focuses on integrated pest management, energy efficiency, water quality, air quality, nutrient efficiency, and food safety. The walnut industry can demonstrate substantial improvement in these areas. There has been reduction in pesticide use, improvements in energy efficiency in walnut drying, and improvement of surface water quality. This includes improving nutrient and irrigation efficiency to improve water quality.

The California Walnut Board has supported sustainable growing practices through its production research program for over 20 years. They showcased their commitment with their leadership in the Walnut Pest Management Alliance funded in 1997 by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. This project focused on overall pesticide reduction, with an emphasis on pesticides impacted by Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The Walnut Pest Management Alliance focused on practices that were economically viable for growers and at the same time environmentally responsible. This is a key part of a sustainable program and focused walnut growers on environmental stewardship. The California Walnut Board has been a partner in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP) since 2000. The EPA has recognized the California Walnut Board as a Silver member of the PESP reserved for partners achieving higher environmental standards.

The California Walnut Board continues to develop new sustainable practices through the PRAC (Production Research Advisory Council) process established in 2005 to provide input for long-term planning and coordination of research in four areas; genetic improvement, orchard management, plant pathology, and entomology. Research priorities are weighted higher when they lead to more economical and environmentally friendly practices for growers to improve their sustainability. Current research is identifying and testing additional improvements in walnut food safety, which will lead to better food safety management guidelines for walnut growers. A recent example of a new sustainable practice came from eleven years of research published in the last "Walnut News" by Lampinen et al, on the need for less pruning in walnuts. It has the great potential to be economical and environmentally friendly for growers.

Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is grown, and if it's safe. It is up to the agricultural community to tell their story. Since media has recently diversified because of the internet, there are more opportunities to tell a positive story. Many other commodities are making their case through websites, sustainable farm tours, and sustainable newsletters. The story needs to be told by the walnut industry and should be based on documented facts showcasing the industry's commitment to sustainable practices. In the future, innovative methods such as the website can be developed for the California walnut industry to show its commitment to sustainability.