There is a market for both the wood and nuts of walnut trees. However, due to the different cultural practices necessary to maximize each use, high-quality wood and optimal nut production usually do not come from the same tree. Regardless of the selected use, it can take several decades for a walnut sapling to produce a return on investment. Walnut trees begin producing nuts after about 10 years, but it will take about 30 years before they reach their best years of nut production. Saw log production takes about 50 years. The greatest timber value of walnut trees occurs when trees are around 80 years old. Total value of a walnut tree will depend on use, tree condition, buyer and current market.
Highest-quality walnut tree lumber is used in veneers of doors, furniture, cabinets and wall panels. Nuts from walnut trees are used in baking, ice cream and candy. Ground shells can be used as a polishing abrasive. Walnuts are an important part of the diet of many forms of wildlife, including squirrels and deer. In the urban setting, walnut trees provide shade and some degree of ornamental value. Typically, these urban trees are lower quality than those found in professionally managed orchards. The wood from nonprofessionally grown trees is most commonly used for firewood, which at best will only partially offset the cost of cutting down a large tree.
Regardless of use, value per commercial acre of walnuts varies depending on initial tree density, expected growth rate per year, seedling cost, whether or not nuts are harvested annually and the rate of tree thinning. It will also clearly depend on the market rate for timber on a board-foot basis and how much nuts sell for per pound. Walnut timber trees reach financial maturity essentially when the selling profit exceeds a higher rate of return than what the tree could provide if left to grow. Prices correlate with quality and size of tree.
All walnut trees of nut-bearing age will produce nut crops, but certain cultivars have greater success producing high yields of good-quality walnuts. It is possible that a well-maintained walnut orchard can potentially produce about 2,000 pounds of walnuts annually per acre. Hammons Products, which operates more than 250 buying stations throughout the United States, is the only commercial black walnut processor in the United States. Growers can either sell directly to one of the buying stations or to a local huller. The University of Missouri's Center for Agroforestry lists 2010 walnut buying prices ranging from $0.13 to $0.45 per pound of harvested walnuts.
Most black walnut trees are grown to produce saw logs or veneer. The value of timber value is largely determined by the relative presence or absence of defects. High-quality trees should have very few visible defects, including scars, bumps, cracks, crookedness, holes or low-hanging limbs. The most valuable timber trees exceed 18 inches in diameter. Total timber tree value will vary significantly depending on overall quality, number of trees and current market conditions. A single high-quality walnut specimen paired with the right buyer may be worth hundreds of dollars. You should always obtain multiple bids from reputable timber buyers for the purchase of a walnut tree.
- University of Missouri Extension; Selling Walnut Timber; John P. Slusher, et al.; October 1993
- Ohio State University School of Natural Resources; Urban Walnut Trees: Their Value as Timber or Veneer; William G. Owen, et al.
- University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry; Growing Black Walnut for Nut Production; William Reid,et al.; 2007
- University of Minnesota Extension; Growing Black Walnut; Melvin J. Baughman, et al.; 1996
- University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry; Black Walnut Financial Model (Version 2.0); November 2010
Christine McLachlan has been writing professionally since 2010. Before starting an e-commerce business, she worked as an urban planner/landscape designer for five years. Mrs. McLachlan has a Bachelor of Science in English and political science, as well as a Master of Science in urban planning, from Florida State University. In addition, she holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Florida.