America’s pistachio growers are on track to their biggest crop ever this year. Fortunately, demand continues to grow and the industry should be able to sell most, if not all, of the crop, says Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers.
“We’re estimating the 2012 production year will total at or near 600 million pounds,” he says.
This is an on-year for pistachio trees, which tend to alternate between a heavier crop one year, followed by lower production the next. The 2012 estimate represents a 25 percent increase over the 448 million pounds growers harvested in 2011, an off year.
The expected size of this year’s crop would be almost 14 percent larger than in 2010, an on-year. That fall, growers brought in 528 million pounds of nuts — the current record.
The projected upswing in production this year reflects a number of new trees coming into production, part of an industry-wide expansion that began almost a decade ago. In 2003, growers planted 3,000 new acres; the next year, they added another 7,500 acres, followed 11,000 more new acres of seedlings. Since 2007, when 25,000 new acres were planted, growers have continued adding more acres. It takes six year for a new orchard to produce a marketable crop.
American Pistachio Growers reports there are about 250,000 acres of the trees in the West; of that, 150,000 acres are bearing a crop this year. California accounts for 98.5 percent of all pistachio production in the U.S., with the rest of the crop grown in Arizona and New Mexico.
Yields for 2012 are expected to average a little less than 4,000 pounds per acre, similar to 2010, Matoian says. For the most part, the new crop has fared well thus far. Rains earlier in the season caused alternaria and botrysphaeria flare-ups in some orchards, which growers controlled with fungicides. Also, a few orchards suffered some hail damage in April.
“There has been very little mold, which tends to be a problem for growers in eastern areas of the San Joaquin Valley,” he says. “Final yields will depend on the weather between now and harvest.”
Meanwhile, processors remain confident that that this year’s bigger crop will be matched by strong demand. “Right now, prospects look excellent that we’ll be able to sell the crop we’re growing,” Matoian says.
Pistachio shipments from the start of the last season were up significantly from year-earlier volumes. Exports, which make up about 65 percent of U.S. shipments, have increased 20 percent. The biggest market is China and other areas of Southeast Asia. “Our association is doing tremendous outreach to China, and the growing middle class there has taken up our product,” Matoian says.
Domestic shipments, which currently account for about 38 percent of the sales of U.S. pistachios, have risen 34 percent over this same period last year. Several branded promotions have contributed to that, he says
This brisk trade is mirrored by pistachio prices, currently higher than at the beginning of this marketing year.
“In the past, with prospects for a large crop, prices would decrease as we got closer to harvest,” Matoian says. “But, the fact that prices have gained strength this year shows demand for pistachios is there and that prices will remain strong through the next crop.”