The state's walnut growers can expect to shake the second-largest crop off their trees this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected the harvest at 940 million pounds, which would be second only to the record 1.06 billion pounds in 2010.
"We look forward to this year's crop as demand for California walnuts continues to rise," said Solano County grower Carl Cilker, a member of the California Walnut Commission, in a news release. "The trees look to be in good shape."
Walnut production in California has about doubled since 2000, as consumers come to see the food as a healthy source of fat. San Joaquin County is the leading source and Stanislaus County also is a major player.
The harvest runs from late August to November, providing 99 percent of the U.S. supply and about three-fourths of the world trade, according to the commission.
Several plants in the Northern San Joaquin Valley process walnuts. Some stay in the shell, while others go to makers of snacks, baked goods and other products.
"People enjoy eating walnuts because they taste good and are convenient," said Dennis Balint, the commission's chief executive officer. "More importantly, walnuts are a heart-healthy, nutrient-dense food."
He noted the industry's support for more than 80 studies on cancer, diabetes, cognitive function and other health issues.
Walnuts were No. 5 in gross income among Stanislaus County farm products last year, bringing an estimated $175.7 million to growers, the county crop report said.
The nuts were No. 3 last year in San Joaquin County, with gross income pegged at $278.9 million.
Merced County had an estimated $18.1 million in gross income from walnuts in 2010 but has not reported 2011 figures.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.