As nut-filling begins in California’s pistachio orchards, growers may be looking at a record-breaking production of 400 to 450 million pounds by the end of harvest. Most growers are expecting the final number to be a record, reports Andy Anzaldo, grower representative for Paramount Farms, Lost Hills, Calif. However, he’s looking for a total production at the lower end of this range.

Irregular weather patterns early in the season, including freezing temperatures, may affect the final outcome, he notes. These patterns have shown symptoms of insufficient chilling, despite the tally that showed an adequate number of chilling hours this past winter. “Some trees bloomed like they didn’t have enough chilling hours,” he says. “We saw orchards where some trees were fully leafed out and some were half dormant. One hypothesis is that the chilling we got this year wasn’t as effective as the temperatures would indicate. We quantitatively measure ambient air temperature for chill, but research shows bud temperature matters the most, and we currently don’t have an effective way to measure this data point.”

The April freeze affected about 500 to 1,000 bearing acres statewide, Anzaldo notes. The cold weather mostly affected more mature trees in Madera County. “These trees had bloomed and formed clusters when they were hit by frost in mid-April,” he says. “The freeze terminated development and the trees aborted their clusters. Another major factor adding to production uncertainty was the cold spell this spring. It was followed by a heat wave which shocked some of the younger trees that are more sensitive to the weather.”

End result of these erratic weather patterns was poor pollination. This led to higher-than-normal cluster drop in young trees, and possibly more blanks and harvestability issues due to variable maturity. Despite the local impact, this poor pollination will probably be only a minor factor in the overall production of this year’s pistachio crop, Anzaldo notes.

Right now, he’s expecting prices for the 2009 crop of around $1.50 to $2 per pound. If the industry fully recovers from the April recall of pistachios, then growers may receive prices at the higher end of this range. But, if the recall leads to a lower demand or if lower prices lure overseas buyers to purchase Iranian pistachios, then, he says, prices California growers receive may be closer to the $1.50 level. Paramount is increasing its marketing efforts and is optimistic these programs will overcome these challenges, Anzaldo adds.