While some pistachio processors are predicting this year’s crop will total 400 million to 450 million pounds, consultant and former grower Carl Fanucchi is weighing in with a bigger estimate — perhaps a 475 million, or even a 500-million-pound harvest.
“The crop looks good,” says the owner of Fanucchi Diversified Management, Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., which works with pistachio growers throughout Kern County. “Nut fill on mature trees is excellent, and nut size is larger than last year. Also, the number of blanks is a bit lower than normal, except for first-crop trees where blanks might be a little higher than the rest. That’s probably the result of not enough pollen in those young orchards.”
Based on the color of the nuts, good disease control and lack of staining, and other insect damage, he also sees excellent prospects for a top quality crop.
“Because of all the rain this season, growers with any kind of history of fungal problems have done a good job of spraying their trees to prevent any disease problems,” Fanucchi says. “The trees look good.”
Growers also included insecticides in their fungicide applications. As of mid-August, he hadn’t heard any reports of major insect damage in Kern County pistachio orchards, and doubted if he would for the balance of the season. As was the case last year, navel orangeworm numbers have been low this season. Stink bugs and leaf-footed plant bugs haven’t been a threat, either.
One reason may be the abundance of green vegetation along creek bottoms and other areas of the foothills due to this year’s wet weather, which encouraged the pests to stay outside of commercial orchards, Fanucchi says.
He anticipates that the cooler-than-usual temperatures this year will push the start of harvest back by about 7 to 10 days from normal. “Everyone seems to agree that the pistachios will be late — it’s just a matter of how much.”
He uses a row of the early variety, Joley, in an old pistachio orchard to gauge maturity of the current crop. Joley, which matures about a week in advance of California’s predominate variety, Kerman, can be a good indicator of when the main harvest is likely to begin, he says. Typically, Fanucchi doesn’t see nuts on Joley trees starting to change color and soften until around Aug. 20.
“The fourth week of August will be the key,” he says. “If the Kerman crop is really late this year, we won’t see any signs of Joley maturity that week.”
More and more Kern County pistachio growers, particularly those with their own harvesting equipment, are shaking trees twice, harvesting the later-maturing nuts about 10 to 14 days after the first shake, Fanucchi says.
“The third generation of navel orangeworm doesn’t really get into the nuts in this area until mid- September or later,” he says. “If you can get the nuts off early, you can keep your trees almost completely free of the worms”
An early harvest helps protect the nuts from alternaria, a fungal disease that can be a major threat to growers in some areas of the San Joaquin Valley.
Fanucchi expects growers using a two-shake harvest will do the first shake three or four days after Labor Day. With his growers, earlier blocks of Kerman normally start maturing around Aug. 28.
“We probably won’t get going with our two-shake harvest until around Sept. 7-8. Guys doing a single-shake harvest will probably wait until around Sept.10-15, to get started.”