TOLEDO - There's money laying in yards, and many people don't even know it.
Black walnuts aren't yard waste as some property owners think. In fact, nut buyers say collecting can be a lucrative endeavor.
Eric Werner of rural Toledo, who buys black walnuts for Hammons Products Co. in Missouri, said a few good-producing trees can be a money maker. Hulled nuts are worth $8 per hundredweight.
On average, Werner said, a pickup load is worth between $80 and $120. He will pay cash on delivery.
"I'd say there's more (walnuts) being wasted than being used. It's still a secret," Werner said, referring to their cash value.
Todd Derifield, Waterloo city forester, said there are a few thousand walnut trees in the city limits and thousands more in the county. In Northeast Iowa, nut processors say they're common.
Picking up walnuts is a fall tradition before people mow and to keep yards looking nice. Walnuts often end up in landfills, city yard waste dumps or in ditches.
To Brian Hammons, president of Hammons Products, that's a waste. The meat inside the hard shell is in demand for cooking and as ice cream topping. Last year, the company processed 38 million pounds, its third largest crop ever.
Typically, he said the walnut harvest starts Thursday and lasts through the fall. Hammons has 260 buying stations throughout the Midwest, though Werner is the only one in Northeast Iowa.
"You can make a lot of money. I see a lot of nuts out there," Hammons said.
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Ample moisture and temperate weather made for good growing conditions.
Hammons said collecting and selling walnuts is an excellent fundraiser. Families also consider it a good way to make some extra cash. Werner said he has some clients who buy their Christmas presents and school clothes with nuts they would be picking up anyway.
For those with a lot of walnuts who want to speed up the harvest and make it easier, there are pull-behind machines that will pick walnuts off the ground.
Mike Cook just ordered one online for $66. With about 120 walnut trees on his acreage just north of Waterloo, the retired John Deere worker is going to give selling walnuts a try for the first time.
In the fall, Cook said, he's usually up to his ankles in walnuts.
"I thought of them as a waste product. I got on the Internet, did some surfing and found out I could market them," Cook said. "I think I got a lot of pickup loads."
If the money is good compared to the labor and expense, Cook said, he'll continue doing it. He plans on investing the profits.
For people with smaller amounts of walnuts that may not be worth selling, Vern Fish with the Black Hawk County Conservation Board urges people to donate them. The county is establishing a new 40-acre forest near the west fork of the Cedar River between Finchford and Janesville, and wants walnuts and acorns to seed it.
Drop-off sites are located at Hartman Reserve and Black Hawk Park.
"We literally need tons of nuts ... anything that rolls," Fish said. "We're happy to get them out of yards and landfills and back into the woods."