This Saturday is National Nut Day, a perfect opportunity to honor nature’s nutritional dynamo– the nut. It seems that Americans are more than a little nutty about nuts, which are considered specialty crops. Nearly one out of every 10 of us eats nuts, or a nut product, at least once a day. Almonds, walnuts and pecans are the top three nuts consumed in the United States* and the production of almonds, walnuts and pistachios has more than doubled in the last decade.
Tree nuts – which include almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts – are a great source of plant protein. Several nuts play a role in preventing heart disease or lowering cholesterol. Although they are high in calories, nuts are a fiber-rich, phytonutrient, antioxidant (i.e.-Vitamin E), highly portable food that can enhance dinner, compliment dessert or stand alone as a tasty snack.
California is the country’s leading producer of tree nuts. Nearly 90 percent of each year’s tree nut production is harvested from the state’s orchards, including almost all almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Together, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas produce 75 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. U.S. tree nut production since the mid-2000s has generated, on average, nearly $4 billion in annual farm cash receipts, with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans accounting for most of the sales.
Earlier this month, we announced the award of 55 specialty crop block grants to fund 740 initiatives across the United States and its territories. In one project, the Georgia Department of Agriculture will partner with the state’s Agricultural Commodity Commission for Pecans. They will promote pecans and educate health-conscious consumers on the importance of its antioxidant and health benefits by placing heart healthy billboards in strategic locations throughout the state. Their outreach efforts will also include two minutes of pecan in-flight video on all Delta flights in November.
In California, the Department of Food and Agriculture will partner with the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California to develop and implement new strategies for preventing salmonella contamination in almonds and pistachios. The science-based strategies will focus on the transfer of the microbial dust and contaminants carrying salmonella from livestock farms and ranches to nearby almond and pistachio orchards. They’ll also take a look at the contaminants found in places that handle almond and pistachio shelling/hulling.
These projects along with several others will help strengthen the market for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture, and tree nuts. Find out what projects were funded in your area.