The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 12, 2008

Black walnut buying season opens Oct. 1

By Mike Surbrugg

STOCKTON, Mo. — When Brian Hammons talks, the black walnut industry listens.

Hammons is the third generation of his family to head Hammons Products Co., which has always been based at Stockton.

The company seeks to buy 25 million pounds of black walnuts this year. The buying season opens Oct. 1 with a price of $13 per hundredweight for hulled nuts.

The company will have some 260 buying stations throughout Missouri and other states where walnuts grow. About 65 percent of the production comes from Missouri, Hammons said.

This year’s crop could produce from 18 to 25 million pounds of hulled walnuts, he speculates.

“There are areas with good crops and others with a lower outlook,” he said.

Ninety-nine percent of the nuts will come from native trees growing wild in yards, pastures, barnyards or woods. These nuts vary in quality, yield and moisture.

Nutmeat buyers look for a nut that is light brown to tan, full-meated, has a rich and naturally pungent flavor and a firm texture.

Growers can sell nutmeats from improved black walnut cultivars and are paid 40 to 60 cents a pound for nuts in the shell. Such nuts yield 25-30 percent nutmeats and meet quality tests done by Hammons.

“We are working with landowners to grow improved varieties,” Hammons said.

While such production accounts for only a fraction of nuts the company expects to buy this year, a goal is to be able to buy 20 million pounds of such nuts from 5,000 acres of managed nut orchards.

The company faces getting fewer native walnuts because more trees are cut for lumber or removed to make room for houses or other crops. This happens while demand is growing for black walnuts, Hammons said. About 50 percent of nutmeats are used in ice cream and more sales are anticipated in home cooking products because more people are eating at home.

Mike Surbrugg is The Joplin Globe farm editor.