California pistachio growers face mostly good news as the 2006 harvest nears, despite nut blanking in areas impacted by low chilling hours, according to Madera pistachio grower Kevin Herman who serves as chairman of the California Pistachio Commission (CPC). The harvest is expected to kickoff around Sept. 5 in the southern growing areas and conclude in northern orchards about Oct. 15.

“The mold or fungal issues that California growers sometimes see have not been a major problem this year,” Herman noted. “There was some insect damage back in the spring due to stink bugs which caused some nuts to fall from the trees.”

Another challenge this growing season was an extended bloom period and more variable crop maturation tied to temperatures. The million-dollar question was determining when the maximum number of nuts would ripen without waiting too long where nut quality deteriorated,” he said.

The 2006 crop yield is down quite a bit compared to 2005 for the alternative-bearing crop. The 2005 California crop was 280 million, much higher than this year’s projection of 175 to 200 million pounds. The southern and western parts of the state had back to back on-year crops in 2004 and 2005 so they are off in 2006, Herman explained. Many of the ranches last year had in excess of 5,000 pounds per acres. In 2006, 500-pounds-per-acre will be lucky. Madera and Merced counties in general will have an on year. The major pistachio-growing counties include Kern, Tulare and Madera.

Herman said California’s largest pistachio processor, Paramount Farms Inc. of Lost Hills, Calif., has announced a 2006 price of $2.15 per pound for split inshell nuts, the second highest price on record following 2005’s per-pound-rate of $2.50.

“Pistachio sales continue to do quite well even with the high prices paid to growers,” Herman noted. “That is a pretty exciting combination for all growers, myself included.” Pistachio prices have trended toward almond prices, he said.

The U.S pistachio industry produces nearly 100 percent of the nation’s demand for pistachios. A small amount makes its way from Turkey. Iran is the largest grower of pistachios in the world, Herman said. Iranian pistachios tend to have an aflatoxin mold that can be a carcinogen to humans, a problem not found in California-grown pistachios. “The California Pistachio Commission is a strong advocate of making sure that all pistachios sold in the U.S. are aflatoxin-free.”

Herman was re-elected to his second term as CPC chair on July 17. He has grown pistachios for 18 years.

e-mail: cblake@farmpress.com