Pistachio growers Steve Couture and his brother, Chris, began harvesting their 2012 pistachio crop on Sept. 10. That’s later than usual for the fourth-generation family’s West Side 310-acre California Pistachio Orchards near Kettleman City, Calif.
The Coutures like to start shaking their organically-grown trees during the first two or three days of September to minimize the threat of navel orangeworm damage.
Steve attributes this year’s later start to cool temperatures during pollination in April which hindered development of the crop.
Although some of their pistachio trees date back 40 years, this is the first time the Coutures have harvested 160 acres of trees they planted in 2007. “Those trees have been growing well and we’re really pleased with them,” Steve says. “But, they’re only going into their sixth leaf, so we’re not expecting a very big crop. Some of the trees look quite a bit better than others. I’m hoping to get 500 pounds of nuts per acre from them, but a lot of the trees don’t have that much.”
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The 150 acres of mature trees, which represent a wide range of ages, are planted at 100 trees per acre. That’s a lower density than most new orchards. The Coutures planted 120 trees per acre in their recent plantings.
The brothers hope to harvest 3,000 pounds of nuts per acre from the older trees this year. That’s in line with their production for each of the past several seasons, he says.
“That would give us 6,000 pounds of nuts over a two-year period, which is as much as we ever expected,” Steve says.
California’s pistachio growers are projected to harvest 550 million to 575 million pounds of nuts. That would be the biggest California crop ever. It compares to 2011, an off-year crop, when 448 million pounds of nuts were gathered. The 2010 crop totaled 528 million pounds.
As in other area pistachio orchards Steve looked at prior to harvest, the nut clusters on his trees appeared unusually tight. “Normally, we can see through the clusters pretty easily,” Steve says. “But, this year, they are really dense with nuts. However, I have found a few blanks.
He expects almost all of the nuts from the younger orchards will weigh in at 16 to 18 nuts per ounce. Those from the older trees are likely to be in the 18/20 size range, he notes.
Steve anticipates a strong market for this year’s pistachio crop as demand at home and in several other countries, particularly China and India, continues to grow. His main concern centers on Europe where weak economies and a strong U.S. dollar are likely to dampen demand for California pistachios.
The Couture’s process their pistachios in their own on-site facility and market them themselves.
“I understand other growers are looking to sell their in-shell nuts to processors for around $2 per pound,” he says. “That’s about 10 to 20 cents less than last year. But, it’s still a pretty good price.”