Twenty-five-year pistachio veteran Jim Cook of Bowie, Ariz. is all grins this fall after harvesting his highest crop yields ever.

“This was the best off-year crop I’ve ever had,” said Cook who grows pistachios in southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County. “My yields were 3,600 pounds per acre of APC weight. We were pretty pleased with that; especially following a 5,800 pound per acre crop last year.

The pistachio, the so-called ‘green nut,’ is an alternate-bearing tree nut crop with production higher one year (the ‘on year’) and lower yields the next (the ‘off year’). 2011 was the off year in most western pistachio orchards.

In the West, two-year crop yields average about 7,000 pounds per acre (newer and older orchards combined). Cook’s yields totaled about 9,400 pounds per acre for 2010 and 2011 combined.

Cook wears several grower hats – one for his own small pistachio farms and another for A & P Growers Cooperative where he serves as general manager of the company’s Arizona operation.

The record crop figures mentioned above are for Cook’s operations in Willcox and Bowie. The nut quality was excellent with a single digit non-split rate of six to seven percent. The nut size was average in the 21 per 25 large-size range (21 to 25 kernels per ounce).

Yields averaged about 3,200 pounds per acre on A & P’s 1,100-bearing-acre operation in Bowie this year.

“We’re pleased with the yield,” Cook said. “The nut color was superb.”

A & P intends to plant 260 additional acres in pistachio in the area in 2013.

Cook credits the weather, sunshine, and elevation for this year’s excellent Arizona pistachio crop. The elevation in Bowie is about 4,500 feet. Rainfall amounts were normal through the growing season (five to six inches). No rain fell during harvest which is rare.

Growers in this pistachio production belt claim the pistachios are ‘greener and sweeter.’

Cook and other growers shared post-harvest information with Western Farm Press during the 2011 Arizona Pistachio Association annual meeting held in October in Willcox, Ariz. About 40 growers, processors, investors, and industry leaders from California, Arizona, and New Mexico attended the meeting and harvest party.

Pistachio grower Brian Blackwell also noted a good off-year crop this year. Blackwell is president of Blackwell Farming Company in Bakersfield, Calif. (Kern County). Kern is the largest pistachio-producing county in the nation. All U.S. commercial production is grown in California (98 percent), Arizona, and New Mexico.

Blackwell reported crop yields from 3,000 pounds per acre to 4,000 pounds per acre. Normal off-year yields range from 2,000 pounds per acre to 2,200 pounds per acre.

Blackwell credits the good yields to a second consecutive year of high rainfall and cool spring temperatures in the southern San Joaquin Valley, plus adequate winter chilling hours.

“The cooler spring gave the nuts extra time to form and gain a larger size,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell kicked off harvest in the Delano area Sept. 11; about 10 days later than normal.