Tomatoes are replacing walnuts. Not everywhere, of course. But the prices that producers can get for walnuts have been declining over the past several years. Some landowners in California, especially in the northern part of the state, are turning to tomatoes as a more lucrative replacement. There is an added benefit: tomatoes don’t require as much water.
RELATED: Find out how bountiful walnut production contributed to insufficient prices for producers in this AgAlert story.
Tim Sanchez, who helped to convert a walnut crop in Chico to tomatoes, told the Chico Enterprise-Record that tomatoes use 2.2 acre-feet (716,872 gallons), compared to 3.5 to 4 acre-feet (1.14 million to 1.3 million gallons) for walnuts.
So, he has cut his water usage nearly 40% for the 100-acre tomato operation. That is especially helpful in a state that has dealt with water scarcity for most of the past 20 years.
But it was primarily prices that convinced him to make the switch from walnuts to tomatoes. And soil quality made tomatoes a good alternative. “Tomato prices are good, and after taking out the (walnut) trees it’s like planting in virgin ground. It’s working out well, and farmers are getting cash revenue the first year they farm them,” Sanchez said.
Tomato prices are plump. The California Tomato Growers Association announced a 31.4% increase in 2023 prices for processors compared to the year before.
Those numbers could be convincing. For some producers who had dealt with higher gasoline costs, drought conditions, restricted water use and reduced walnut prices, it became too difficult to make the figures add up. So, switching to tomatoes made sense.
2022: $1.80 per pound
2021: $1.86 per pound
2020: $2.08 per pound
As the article points out, it’s too soon to know if tomatoes will become a permanent crop change for some of the walnut producers. But for now, they can provide a more profitable path and are cheaper to produce.
Read more on why the transition from tomatoes to walnut for growers in northern California could be a fit long-term in the full article from the Chico Enterprise-Record.