California’s pistachio growers started harvesting their crop this year later than they wanted to — a good 10 days or more. However, by the time all the numbers are added up, they’re expected to have brought in their second biggest crop ever behind last year’s record-breaking performance.

“Production was really off in some orchards, but overall it’s been another good year for California,” says Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers, based in Fresno, Calif. “The crop was a little heavier west of Highway 99 than to the east.”

This year’s delayed harvest was due to cooler-than-normal temperatures throughout much of the growing season, particularly in the spring. That delayed development and maturity of the crop, increasing the threat of crop damage from wet fall weather. By the time the first rain of the season fell in early October, the majority of the crop had been trucked to processors. That rain stopped field work for about a day and caused some staining of the nuts still hanging in the orchards.

Pistachios are alternate bearing and this was the off-year.

After a 521-million pound crop last year, the 2011 crop was projected early on to come in at 400 to 450 million pounds. However, by mid-October growers had already harvested 446 million pounds.

The unexpectedly larger off-year crop reflects more acres coming into production.

Not only did the crop size increase, the size of the nuts has increased, too. “One thing we are hearing across the board is the pistachios are larger this year,” Matoian says. “Many more are in the 18 to 20-count range.” Pistachio size is measured in terms the number of nuts per ounce of weight.

The United States pistachio industry counts about 850 growers in Arizona, California and New Mexico. In California, which accounts for 98.5 percent of the annual U.S. production, pistachios are grown in the San Joaquin Valley from San Bernadino County north to Tehama County. Kern County leads the state in pistachio production with over 50 percent of the total crop. Other top-producing counties are Madera, Kings, Tulare and Fresno.

The opening prices for the 2011 crops are reported to be between $1.90 and $2.10 per pound. That compares to last year’s opening price of $2.50 per pound.