Tree grower Harlan Palm shows a black walnut.Ryan Schuessler
“We’re very much aware of thousand cankers and what it implies,” he said. “But we have found that it would not affect the nuts themselves.”
Hammons is a family-owned business four generations deep that buys black walnuts from 16 states. It can process up to 100,000 pounds of nuts a day, with annual production of 20 to 30 million pounds.
Hammons said the nut sector of the black walnut industry would be affected only if thousand cankers spread on a massive scale, killing an immense number of trees, and he believes that is unlikely, given how slowly the disease is spreading in the Midwest.
“We realize that it’s much less a serious of a threat. I won’t diminish the possibility of a threat, but I won’t say that it’s as big of a threat as it looks,” he said. “The fire and brimstone worry is past. Now it’s observe, report and contain.”
But the black walnut lumber producers aren’t taking any chances, since even one infected tree can spell trouble for an industry largely based on high-quality timber sales. Black walnut is a dark hardwood commonly used for veneer, furniture and cabinetry.
Bucky Pescaglia, president of Missouri Pacific Lumber in Fayette, Mo., recognizes what even a small area of infected trees in Missouri could do to his business. If his supply were quarantined, even temporarily, it would be difficult to produce and sell his product.
“What regulators would do to us if it was discovered in our state — that’s the short-term scary part,” he said.
Pescaglia said black walnut makes up approximately 95 percent of his company’s products, 90 percent of which comes from Missouri.
“The potential there, obviously, could be devastating — if a disease were to come through and wipe out the black walnut,” he said. “Black walnut is the cornerstone of our industry, our business.”