Kern County pistachio growers began harvesting their 50,000 or so acres of trees in earnest about Sept. 22.
That’s about 17 days later than normal, a result of the cool spring and periods of cooler weather in late summer, which slowed nut growth.
The delay increases the threat of crop damage from rain, although the concern is greater among growers farther north in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Time was running out and there was no advantage to waiting any longer, which would increase the risk of crop losses from the weather, birds and other threats” says Craig Kallsen, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for the county. “Growers want to get off as many nuts as they can by giving the trees a hard shake. Plus, processors were ready to go, and it will take time for the nut harvesters to get across all the acreage.”
The sooner the growers began shaking their trees, the sooner they can begin cashing in this season’s high prices and putting some of that money that in the bank.
They had been holding off in hopes that waiting to shake the trees would boost split percentages. Several methods can be used to calculate this figure, Kallsen notes.
“I’ve heard some fairly scary numbers, like around 35 percent non-splits in some cases. Let’s hope percentages like that don’t hold across the industry.”
For growers on the West Side of the county, this is an off-production year, when pistachio nuts tend to grow larger. This season’s growing conditions made it harder for kernels to become big enough to split the shells, Kallsen explains.
An off-year also tends to increase the number of blanks the trees produce. He says the percentage of nuts with no kernels appears to be in the 15 percent to 20 percent range on many trees.
“The crop is in very good condition. The mature trees have larger yields than I expected and the nuts look really pretty.