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300 pack Yuba City forum for Walnut Day

Trials involve not courtrooms — but studies about pruning trees. Spacing is not where players are on a basketball court, but how trees are planted. Blight is not urban decay, but the damage trees can sustain.

Welcome to the annual Walnut Day, sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension and the Sutter County Agricultural Department, held Thursday at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Yuba City.

People lined the back wall of the hall and about 300 — a record turnout for the event with three decades of history — heard about matters including planting, pruning and marketing walnuts.

Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director for the California Walnut Board, recounted the transformation in public perception about walnuts since 1987.

"Nobody bought walnuts because of their health benefits," she said of consumption a quarter-century ago.

By 2011, health was the top reason for eating walnuts, Olmstead said.

Markets in countries including China, Japan and South Korea and Japan have expanded.

Still, noted Dennis Balint, executive director of the walnut board, the United States is a bigger market than any country that imports walnuts from America.

Moreover, walnut production and prices have climbed.

"That's a very unique situation that we're enjoying," Balint said.

Usually when production increases, he added, prices decline.

Themis Michailides, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Davis, said botryosphaeria blight affected some walnuts last year and called the problem "a sleeping giant in orchards."

Janine Hasey, a UC farm adviser, said about 600 walnut growers are in Yuba and Sutter counties.

Yuba City grower Joanne Keech called Walnut Day valuable.

"Everything they talked about was very informative," she said.

Leslie Nerli, who manages a nursery in Willows, said economics play a big role in walnuts popularity. The economies of other countries are improving, and with it, demand for walnuts has climbed, she said.

CONTACT Ryan McCarthy at or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADrmccarthy or on Twitter at @ADrmccarthy.

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