Life as a California pistachio grower at the start of June is good for Gary Robinson.
The veteran farmer, who makes his home at Hanford, grows his own Kermans and manages pistachio orchards for other owners in the Westlands Water district of western Fresno County.
“It’s a nice time for pistachio trees,” he says. “They look fresh, clean, and green; the weather hasn’t turned hot yet; and we have the largest water allocation in a number of years. I have a pretty good feeling at this time.”
Among the reasons, he says, is the condition of this year’s developing crop. Production prospects look better than most industry observers thought they would after California pistachio growers brought in a record 521 million pounds last fall — substantially higher than had been anticipated.
“Because of the big yields last year, just about everyone was thinking this year’s crop would be way off. But it’s a lot better than expected,” he says.
Why? “I wish I knew,” Robinson says. “Everyone had been hoping this year’s crop would be as large as 400 million pounds. I think it could be as much as 450 million pounds.”
He has some seven-year old pistachio trees that produced only a very light crop last year. “They have a really nice crop this year, and I’ve seen that on other young trees. Other growers tell me their six-, seven- and eight-year old trees also have a nice crop of nuts this year.”
Although the trees are about 7 to 10 days later in their growth than normal due to the cool, wet spring, Robinson doubts that will delay his typical 21- or 22-day harvest beyond the end of September.
Because of the normally dry conditions in his area, diseases haven’t been a concern in the past and he doesn’t expect that to change this year. “I’ve never put fungicides on pistachios,” he says. He’s not looking for any unusual insect pressures this year, either.
Because of the heavy Sierra snowpack, he’ll be receiving 80 percent of his allocation of surface water from his district. That compares to a 45 percent allocation last year and a meager 10 percent to 15 percent allotment the previous year.
What’s more, he says, the cooler weather so far this year will allow him to stretch water supplies over a longer period, and supplemental water also is available at a decent price. “ We’ll use 100 percent surface water this year for irrigation.”
Despite the bright prospects, Robinson does have at least one concern. “The carryover of the 2010 crop is estimated at around 175 million pounds,” he says. “That’s a little larger than most of us would like, and I think it will create some downward pressure on pricing.”
Last year, growers received $2.50 a pound at the ranch for their pistachios. “I’d be shocked if prices this year don’t open lower,” he says.