Economy

Bumper 1 billion pound walnut crop predicted

WATERFORD — When walnut processing gets cracking at Frazier Nut Farms, it's no simple task.

The company breaks the shells on several million pounds of nuts each year with fast-spinning metal cylinders that apply just enough pressure. Too hard a squeeze and the kernel gets mashed.

A blend of caution and speed helps Frazier and other California processors meet much of the world's demand for walnuts.

It will matter as much as ever this year, with the harvest to be about 1 billion pounds for the first time.

"I don't think the industry is going to have a problem moving this record-setting crop," owner Jim Frazier said as workers nearby piled 55-pound sacks of nuts on a pallet.

Walnuts often are obscured by California's even bigger almond crop, but they have been part of the state's agriculture since the 1870s. The Central Valley has dominated for most of the past century.

The industry has enjoyed growth in recent years thanks to research suggesting that walnuts, once considered an unhealthy treat, can help prevent cardiac disease and other ailments. Advocates note that the nuts are an especially rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, believed to be good for the heart.

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