Today, pistachios are planted on 215,000 acres in California, including 137,000 bearing acres and 78,000 non-bearing acres. A spike in pistachio tree plantings in 2007 will come into production in 2013 and 2014. A second spike in 2010 and 2011 will place more pistachios in the bin in 2016 and 2017.

“We anticipate the U.S. pistachio crop acreage will essentially double in seven to eight years,” Zion said. “We are being proactive and ahead of the (demand) curve.”

2010 California almond acreage totaled about 825,000 (740,000 bearing and 85,000 non-bearing. 2009 California walnut acreage was about 255,000 acres (227,000 bearing acres and 28,000 non-bearing.

However, the California pistachio industry faces potential limitation issues. The major challenge is water availability and price.

“It’s estimated that 25 percent of the pistachios acres in California may be affected by long-term changes in water policy,” Zion said. “California was blessed with a wet year last year yet we are about a year away from a drought.”

Zion believes the political will in California does not currently exist to resolve drought issues.

Zion also pointed to increasing regulations and government policies as concerns for the pistachio industry. For example, processors must now certify that slave labor is not used in the production of processing supplies.

Others issues which could cloud the industry’s future is the length of time for investors to earn a return on investment.

“The length of time for a return on investment is somewhat unattractive – seven years to reach production and 9 to 10 years to gain a positive cash flow,” Zion said.

Another concern is a difficulty in predicting crop production. Pistachios are generally an alternate-bearing crop with higher yields one year followed by lower yields the next year.

Current average California pistachio yields over a two-year cycle is about 7,000 pounds/acre. Over the next two years the figure could jump to 7,500 pounds/acre. Zion says improved varieties and farming practices will result in increased yields.

While concerns blink brightly in the radar screen, many signs point to brighter days ahead for pistachio demand and production. The worldwide consumption of pistachios has about doubled over the last 12 years — from about 600 million pounds in 1999 to almost 1.2 billion pounds in 2010. 2003 was the record year for pistachio demand at 1.5 billion pounds.

Key to increased demand is world population growth which surpassed a record 7 billion people in late October. Forecasts peg a 9.4 billion global population by 2050.