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The Center for Agroforestry

UMCA News Release

From "hobby tree" to serious orchard crop: First black walnut orchard guide directs landowners toward growing black walnut for nut production

May 23, 2007

Most Missourians have either stooped to collect black walnuts from the woods, or know someone who has taken on this task. The rich, hard-husked nuts are often collected by hand and delivered to various hulling stations across the state under the management of Hammons Products Company, Stockton, Mo. – the largest processor and supplier of eastern black walnuts for both food and industrial uses in the U.S.

Black walnut enthusiasts may make fewer trips to the woods for nut harvesting in coming years, thanks to a new guide developed by the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. While black walnut trees can be grown for timber and/or nut production, the focus of the guide is toward planting, managing and harvesting top-quality black walnut nuts for sales at the retail or wholesale level from an orchard practice, similar to pecan and other nut trees. Titled "Growing Black Walnut for Nut Production," the guide is a collaborative effort of the nut tree research cluster at the Center for Agroforestry and the nut research program of Kansas State University. It is the only one of its kind published in the U.S. and represents a decade of research on growing black walnut trees in an orchard practice.

"Black walnut has always been recognized as one of Missouri’s most valuable timber species. With the application of knowledge from this guide, black walnut may soon become known as one of our most valuable orchard species," said Gene Garrett, director, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry.

A longstanding and highly valuable industry in Missouri, high prices are paid for veneer-quality black walnut logs. Last year, 36 million pounds of nuts were purchased by Hammons, mostly hand-collected by landowners and hobbyists. However, wild-harvested nuts can show inconsistencies in ripeness, quality, size and flavor – therefore bringing a lower price per pound than nuts harvested from improved cultivars grown in an orchard.

Through orchard production, a consistent, top-quality nut can be harvested to meet consumer demand for a milder flavor and lighter color while retaining the black walnut’s revered heart-healthy source of fat – an attribute quickly gaining attention from professionals in the health and dietetics professions. Nutmeats are packaged for snacking or cooking and incorporated into candies and jellies. Known for excellent abrasive properties, black walnut shell can be ground to different sizes for industries including cosmetics, oil drilling, fiberglass, wood and stone.

Utilizing cultivar evaluations, outreach with growers and collaboration with industry representatives nationwide, the Center for Agroforestry is striving toward a goal of establishing 1,000 acres of black walnut orchards in Missouri by 2025.

With an estimated harvest of 250,000 pounds of improved black walnuts, multiplied by an approximate retail value of $8 per pound, the contribution to Missouri’s economy from black walnuts could reach $2 million dollars if the Center’s goal is met.

"With the publishing of this guide, our Center offers the grower valuable information for establishing and managing successful black walnut orchards. This guide is essential reading for anyone interested in black walnut orchard management," said Garrett.

The Center supports the nation’s most comprehensive research programs for developing the eastern black walnut and Chinese chestnut as nut crops for agroforestry practices. Work began in 1996 to develop the black walnut into an orchard crop, striving for identification of the best-suited cultivars for Missouri climate and soils. Since the start of the applied breeding program, approximately 70 different black walnut nut cultivars have been acquired and placed in a series of grafted orchard collections at the University of Missouri Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) in New Franklin, Mo. In addition to evaluating both parent trees and their seedling offspring in the breeding program, a unique aspect of the Center's research is the growth of black walnut trees on a trellis system. This process stimulates the production of flowers on accessible branches and is helping researchers develop a better understanding of how to cultivate this species in an orchard setting. Work is also ongoing to precisely identify the exact genetic makeup of each of the black walnut cultivars identified for use in Missouri.

"Pruning schedules, fertilization and pest control measures, for example, can have a major impact on orchard productivity and profitability. We are beginning to address these important questions. Since black walnut cultivars must be propagated via grafting, the selection of specific rootstocks for use in establishing new orchards is also important," said Mark Coggeshall, tree improvement specialist, Center for Agroforestry. "All of these factors are being evaluated as we move black walnut from a forest or backyard ‘hobby’ tree to a serious orchard tree for commercial nut production."

"Growing Black Walnut for Nut Production" is part of the Center’s Agroforestry in Action series, and can be downloaded, printed or ordered from:, Publications link. The guide is also available through MU Extension, publication # AF 1011, by calling (800) 292-0969; or order online from:

The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA), established in 1998, is one of the world's leading centers contributing to the science underlying agroforestry. The Center seeks to develop the scientific basis for designing and prescribing agroforestry practices within a "systems context," which allows technology to be used most effectively. To achieve this goal, our research efforts have been organized into eleven research clusters to enhance creativity and productivity among a range of investigators from many disciplines.

The Nut Tree Research Cluster features research on pecan, black walnut and chestnut, including field studies, market research and outreach. Primary research is conducted at the 660-acre Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center, New Franklin, Mo., and includes experimental black walnut orchards grown on a trellis system and demonstrations of black walnut trees intercropped with pine for an alley cropping and silvopasture practice study area.

--Rachel McCoy
Senior Information Specialist
Center for Agroforestry
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9866

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