Area under cultivation is shrinking
The State Statistics Service of Ukraine (SSSU) has released the official crop data for walnuts in the 2022/23 season and at the same time the first estimates for the new 2023/24 season. The USDA summarises that 17,100 ha of land served as walnut orchards in 2022, a 5.5% decline from the previous year. The Russian invasion, which began in February 2022, is considered the main reason for the decline. As a result, production in the 2022/23 season fell by 6.7% to 107,660 mt. For 2023/24, the current estimate is that the number of privately grown walnut trees will continue to decline as some trees no longer bear due to age and are often not replaced. In fact, much of the walnuts harvested in Ukraine are produced by individuals or small, private family farms. These deliver the nuts to intermediaries who then take care of the export. In 2022, 73% of Ukraine's walnuts were grown in this private way; in 2015, it was even 95%, according to the USDA.
Government seeks solutions
Commercially, too, hardly any new trees are likely to be grown; as these are long-term projects, it is simply too risky for companies in the war-torn country at present. The current forecast is for a total acreage of 16,900 ha and a possible production of 106,470 mt. Most of the commercial cultivation area is in central Ukraine, as according to the SSSU, cultivation conditions are more difficult, especially in the north due to cooler temperatures. The fact that the share of commercially grown walnuts in Ukraine has increased in recent years is not least due to financial support from the state, which was granted before war. Due to the war situation, the Ukrainian government has now stopped classic support for farmers for the time being, but is looking for alternative solutions. Besides the ripe walnuts, walnut wood, leaves for medicinal purposes, unripe green nuts and walnut oil are also in demand, especially from EU importers.
Difficult shipments to EU countries
Ukrainian walnut exports are declining, as the USDA reports with reference to trade sources. This is primarily due to quality; especially when the walnuts are grown privately, pesticides and other plant protection products are often used. Nevertheless, in the 2023/24 season, an estimated 80,000 mt of walnuts are expected to be shipped overseas, which would represent a significant increase compared to the 48,200 mt of the previous season. A major competitor for Ukrainian exporters is China, which serves the same export destinations, and sometimes with much more competitive prices. This could lead to price declines in the Ukrainian market, according to the USDA. A large part of Ukrainian walnuts is exported as kernels. Shipments to EU countries continue to be difficult, posing enormous challenges for exporters.