The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 5, 2010

Walnut season starts slow in southwest Missouri

ROGERSVILLE, Mo. —  It’s more of a dribble than a gush, but the flow of “Ozarks black gold” in the form of black walnuts has started arriving at growling hullers set up throughout the region.

Instead of helping customers unload walnuts from pickup truck beds, cardboard boxes or burlap bags, Josh Pomeroy spent part of Monday afternoon navigating a small front-end loader around the huller set up at Wildcat Tool Rental in Rogersville to move walnut hulls out of the way.

Ten cars waited to be unloaded before the huller opened on the first day of the 2009 harvest, he said.

“This year, our first day, we had two cars all day,” he said. Monday was the same, with two or three people arriving with walnuts, he said.

Several people with black walnut trees on their property have said the crop is small, or that yield varies from tree to tree, Pomeroy said.

“A lot of nuts are still in the trees,” said Brian Hammons, president of Stockton-based Hammons Products. “I would say another week out, things should start picking up.”

The weather could have something to do with it, Gary Gunderson said after taking a load of green globes to the Wildcat huller and returning home with hulled nuts he’ll crack later for his wife’s home baking and for friends.

Most walnut trees haven’t given up their nuts, he said.

“It will take a good, windy, rainy spell, plus some hard freezes,” he said.

Trees are also in the down side of their production cycle this year, Hammons said.

The price paid for 100 pounds of hulled nuts reflects that, he said.

Compared to last year’s price of $9 per 100 pounds, walnut gatherers initially are being offered $11 per 100 pounds.

That price could change, depending on how the harvest progresses, Hammons said.

Hulling season lasts until Oct. 30.

Although the nation’s largest black walnut processor has nearly 200 hullers set up in 12 states, the bulk of the harvest comes from Missouri, Hammons said.

And of that 65 percent of the harvest claimed by Missouri, the bulk of that total comes from southwest Missouri, he said.

Black walnuts have been gathered for generations, but Hammons Products is trying to convince cooks not familiar with the nuts from wild trees that black walnuts can be an interesting alternative to milder California walnuts, Hammons said.

This year’s promotional effort invites people to “Taste the wild side of the walnut family.”

Hammons also has introduced two new products for black walnut fans, Hammons said.

One is “Black and Gold,” a mixture of chocolate-covered walnuts mixed with carmelized walnuts, and the other is black walnut oil for cooking.

“It gives a nice, nutty flavor,” he said.

There’s also some unease about black walnut trees this year.

Warnings have gone out about the spread of thousand canker disease, or TCD, a malady spread by a tiny beetle that damages the bark of walnut trees and eventually kills them.

Wildcat Tool Rental owner Scott Estes has posted notices issued by University Extension of the disease’s spread toward Missouri.

“I haven’t talked to anybody yet who has seen it,” he said.


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