Prompted by the threat of thunder showers, California’s 2013 pistachio harvest got off to a fast start when growers in Kern County began shaking their trees the weekend of Aug. 24-25. That was nearly two weeks earlier than last year.
The work in the field continued hot and heavy as the harvest had spread north throughout the rest of the San Joaquin Valley’s pistachio growing areas by the second week of September.
The early start means some growers will be going back into their orchards after they finishing shaking their trees once, to shake loose the nuts that weren’t fully mature the first time, notes Carl Fanucchi. A pistachio grower himself his company, Fanucchi Diversified Management, Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., works with growers throughout the southern end of the Valley.
When they started the harvest, growers were expecting California’s 2013 pistachio production to total from slightly higher to slightly lower than the record crop of last year when they brought in the equivalent of 555 million pounds of in-shell nuts. But, as the harvest has progressed growers are lowering their expectations to around 500 to 550 million pounds. Many think the final figure will be on lower end of that range.
“We’ll know which way the crop will go once we start getting production reports from the newly-producing orchards,” Fanucchi says. “Some 7th-leaf orchards are coming in with 1,750 pound yields. In the Kern County area, 8- to 12-year-old trees have very good crops on them, pushing the 4,000-pound mark.
“Yields have been good, but not spectacular. The crop isn’t coming in as high as hoped and growers are finding more blanks. Also, nut sizes are a little smaller than anticipated.”
Mature trees are dropping about 2,500 to 3,500 pounds of nuts with the first shake and, possibly, 300 to 750 pounds in the second harvest, Fanucchi notes. Generally, the heavier fields don’t have enough crop left to do a re-shake.
For the most part, the nuts are about average to slightly smaller in size, he says. When the harvest began, insect damage was low. However, since then, navel orangeworm levels have been rising in the packouts due to hull degradation and spray effectiveness wearing down.
“With sharply curtailed deliveries of state and federal surface water this season, some orchards were rationed during nut fill in July and August,” he says “Consequently, split percentages have suffered in some cases.”
Blank percentages are up this year, too. It’s not clear if that also is the result of reduced water supplies. For example, some areas on the West Side of the valley, which suffered significant cut backs in the amount of available water, are reporting blank percentages as much as two to three times higher than normal. “But, even on the East Side of the valley, where growers have had plenty of water for their orchards this year, the number of blanks is really high, in some cases.”
Meanwhile, prices have remained strong, Fanucchi notes. The base has been set at $2.20 per in-shell pound with a 10-cent-per- pound bonus for such factors as quality and longevity. Final prices for 2012 pistachios are hovering in the $3 range.
The large number of good harvest contractors who are getting the field work done in a timely manner is helping to keep the harvest moving at a brisk pace. So are the processors who are geared up to handle the crop volume efficiently, Fanucchi adds.
“Lots of harvesting is being conducted at night,” he says. “That doubles the production of the harvesters and keeps processing plants full of product all night, increasing the amount of nuts flowing through the plant in a 24-hour period. Often in the past, the plants have run out of product to run before the day’s harvest begins to flow in.”
The Kern County pistachio harvest is expected to be finished this year by about Oct. 10.