Thursday, October 8, 2009

Planting Cultivar Nuts Can Create Additional Source of Farm Income

By David Burton
University Extension

Missouri landowners who want to make extra money with agroforestry need to consider planting black walnut trees that are grafted to improved cultivars, according to Brian Hammons, CEO of Hammons Products Company in Stockton.
“Growing black walnut trees that have been grafted to improved cultivars have the potential for excellent production and a better financial return,” said Hammons. “The trend has been for farmers to grow them on their land, pick and sell them and make some extra money. But there is a potential to do much more using grafted trees.”
According to Hammons, if a landowner did a 40 acre planting of cultivar nuts (60x60 spacing = 480 trees) they could be producing as much as 80,000 pounds of nuts and generating an additional $56,000 income (about a $32,000 profit after hulling and hauling).
Not bad for land that can also still be used for grazing cattle.
“The ultimate success of a black walnut planting will be defined by the goals you set for the orchard before a single tree is planted,” said Jay Chism, an agronomy specialist with MU Extension who provides consulting services to Hammons Products.
Chism says there are three basic reasons for planting a black walnut orchard: to provide the family with black walnut kernels; to develop black walnut cultivars as a hobby; or to produce a commercially marketable nut crop.
“If commercial growth is the goal, then the production of thin-shelled nuts, which produce more high-quality nut meat, is only possible by growing black walnut trees that have been grafted to cultivars of known nut and tree characteristics,” said Chism. “Another key characteristic is finding a cultivar that will fruit every year.”
The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry has put together a guide entitled, “Growing Black Walnuts for Nut Production,” which provides recommendations as part of a model to make additional money.
Missouri leads the world in black walnut production (65% of the black walnuts Hammons purchases from 15 states come from Missouri). Hammons credits some of that success to his company’s long-standing partnership with University of Missouri Extension.
“A new project that could result in a major change to the black walnut industry and farms in Missouri is a result of a long-term relationship between our company and University of Missouri Extension specialists,” said Hammons.
Even though wild nuts grown by landowners (who are basically hobbyists) do provide a certain amount of nut meats for consumers, Hammons says his company will pay more for growers of named cultivars.
In 2006, Hammons Products Company purchased 41,000 pounds of black walnuts from 11 growers with cultivars like Kwik Krop, Emma-K, TomBoy and others. These nuts were purchased at about .50 cents per pound and had a yield average of about 23.4 percent kernel.
“2006 results were average, with the highest price being .82 cents per pound. We expect well-managed orchards to produced nuts with higher yields and greater value,” said Hammons.
By comparison, the wild trees have a yield rate of about 7 percent kernel and are typically purchased for eight to 13 cents per pound.
“Our long-term goal is to have 5,000 acres of black walnut nut orchards. There would be a potential for 7.5 million pounds of cultivar nuts and would more than double the amount of nutmeats available every year. Many people have not discovered black walnuts, but supply has been the major issue,” said Hammons.
The next step toward this goal is to put together some 10-acre test plots for growing cultivar nuts.
“The economic model will help farmers plan how and where they are going to plant those trees and what they can expect to make from doing that,” said Hammons.
One test site will be at the University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon.
Researchers will be planting Kwik-Krop, Sparrow, Sauber, EmmaK cultivars with both 30 x 30 and 42 x 42 spacing. The economic analysis will be a critical part of the program and research.
MU Extension specialists as well as staff at Hammons Products Company – like Steve Rutledge and Jordan Prindle – can help a landowner get started with cultivar black walnuts.
For more information, contact the nearest MU Extension Center for available black walnut guide sheets, call Chism at (417) 682-3579, or visit Hammons Products online at

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