California's walnut crop is coming in larger than expected, and strong demand from Asia is prompting shipments to stay well ahead of the pace of a year earlier.

As of Dec. 31, processors received about 497,000 tons of walnuts from the fall crop, according to the California Walnut Commission. That's about 6 percent more than the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast in September and is closing in on the state's record 2010 crop of 504,000 tons.

By year's end, shipments to China and Hong Kong reached 110 million pounds, compared with 72 million pounds a year earlier.

Pete Turner, an industry consultant and chairman of the California Independent Handlers Coalition, predicted the crop next year could reach 550,000 tons. Prompted by strong crop prices, farmers in recent years planted new orchards that soon will come into production.

— Staff and wire reports. Submit items to