It won’t top last year’s record 520 million pound total, but California’s 2011 pistachio crop could be one of the third largest ever.
Normally, production of the alternate bearing trees drops in an off-year like this, but as the season began, the decline in production appeared to be less than expected.
“In many orchards, we’re seeing development of a moderate or even an on-year crop,” says Andy Anzaldo, general manager of grower relations for Paramount Farms, based at Lost Hills, Calif. He works with pistachio growers primarily in Fresno, Kern and Madera counties.
“I and many others in the industry feel this is definitely a 400 million pound crop,” he says. He cites favorable weather, going back more than a year, as the main reason for such expectations.
“Last season we had a mild spring and an early summer, which gave us as a flush of growth for the next year that we normally don’t see. This past winter we had more than enough chilling hours — over 800 — for adequate bloom and pollination this season. Also, we had an ideal bloom, with good, uniform overlap between the male and female trees and no extreme weather events.”
As a result, trees have responded with more clusters per tree than usual for an off-year.
The only concern to this point in the growing season has been an early June storm, when about two-thirds of California’s pistachio orchards received more than an inch of rain — unusually heavy for this time of year, Anzaldo notes. This, along with frequent wet weather this spring, has prompted growers to increase spraying to protect trees againstBotryosphaeria, Botrytis, and Alternaria late blight fungal diseases
“Normally, growers would have made one to two preventive fungal sprays by now,” he says. “But, most of those I’ve talked with in high-disease pressure areas have already sprayed three times and, in some cases, four times.”
Despite the rains this past winter and spring, which encouraged more vegetative growth in habitat areas that can harbor harmful insects like plant bugs, the overall insect activity hasn’t been enough to cause any undue concern at this time, Anzaldo says. Growers are now monitoring traps and starting navel orangeworm sprays.
At the start of the first full week of June, development of the crop is a good 10 to 14 days behind normal, he says. Meanwhile, shells are beginning to harden as growers continue fertigation and irrigation to prepare for nut fill in July, when trees’ demand for food and water peaks.