American pistachio growers are in a buoyant mood as they head into the 2013 season. And why not?
They’re coming off a year of record nut production and strong sales to boot. Shipments of 2012-crop nuts for the first four months of the new marketing year through Dec. 31 were up 19.5 percent over the same period a year earlier. On top of that, the good initial prices offered to growers for their latest crop promised even more to come later in the marketing year in nut quality incentive payments.
California growers produce 99 percent of the U.S. pistachio crop. Arizona and New Mexico farmers grow the rest.
“Pistachio growers are feeling great these days,” says Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers, Fresno, Calif.
Even though the average yield was down from the record level of 2010, growers harvested the industry’s biggest pistachio crop ever in 2012, thanks to new acreage that came into production last year. The equivalent of 555 million pounds of in-shell nuts easily surpassed the previous record 528 million pounds produced in 2010.
About 65 percent of the American pistachio crop is exported, and the demand remains strong overseas. Export sales rose about a third higher than year earlier levels in the final four months of 2012. The China-Hong Kong markets accounts for much of the increase in overseas shipments. “Twelve years ago, China was importing about 2 million pounds of American pistachios annually,” Matoian says. “In the marketing year ending Aug. 31, 2012, we shipped 120 million pounds of pistachios to China. As their incomes increase more and more, Chinese consumers can afford to buy our pistachios.”
Bolstering exports has been recent 20 percent to 25 percent sales increases annually in the domestic market. However, Matoian notes, “This year, domestic sales are a little on the flat side,” he says. “But, there’s still a lot of time left in the current marketing year to sell our pistachios to U.S. consumers.”
The initial grower prices for 2012 pistachios — $1.90 to 2.05 per pound in-shell — were similar to the 2011 crop. Brisk sales could prompt processors to reward growers with year-end bonuses. “Processors don’t offer these incentive payments every year,” Matoian says. “But, last year some growers received bonuses upwards of 55 cents a pound additional for their pistachios.”
American pistachio growers continue to expand production. Up until last year, the industry had been planting an average of about 10,000 new acres of tree annually since 2004. “Last year growers put in a total of 13,700 acres of new pistachio orchards.” Matoian says. “We’re hearing talk of that figure exceeding 20,000 acres this year.”
By all accounts, the markets should have no trouble accommodating larger supplies for the foreseeable future, he notes.
“We have record production, and prices keep trending up,” Matoian says. “That shows the kind of demand there is for pistachios around the world. Production in our industry is likely to double by 2018 from what it was in 2011.”
To further stimulate demand, the industry is developing new products, such as flavored pistachios, and promoting more uses of the nut as an ingredient in confectionary and bakery products and in restaurant menus. “Also, there are many areas of the world where we haven’t even begun to develop markets,” Matoian adds.