Attend any agricultural commodity conference these days and odds are China will be a topic of discussion.

It was no different at the recent California Pistachio Industry Conference, but this time is was “good news.”

California Pistachio Commission director of research Bob Klein did find commercial pistachio trees dating back to the 1930s when he visited there last September. However, he found an industry far smaller than reported by the USDA Foreign Ag Service and others who say there are 20,000 acres of pistachios in China producing 50 million pounds of pistachios annually and exporting 20 million pounds.

“The FAS simply reports what the Chinese tell them,” said Klein

If China is shipping pistachios, they're Iranian pistachios.

Klein said poor growing conditions, disease problems and no infrastructure were the most obvious things he saw on his trip to China's four pistachio producing areas.

The two areas in eastern China and one in central China had virtually no production. Botryosphaeria and epicarp lesion were evident on many trees. Verticillium wilt had wiped out trees. All but a handful of 200 seedlings they planted had died, probably from overwatering.

Xinjiang province in Western China had the greatest potential for pistachios. This is where the Chinese grow stone fruits, cotton, and figs. There is little rainfall and all crops are irrigated.

However, there were fewer than 1,000 trees growing in the providence. A commercial 1,000 pistachio orchard developed by Taiwanese investors was abandoned due to verticillium wilt.

Phytophthora also was common, another big constraint to pistachio production.

“There are not 2,000 acres of pistachios in China, much less 20,000 acres,” said Klein. He says China does not have the capability of producing 1 million pounds of pistachios, much less 50,000 million pounds.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com