- California pistachio growers expect their second biggest crop ever behind last year’s record-breaking performance.
- Overall it’s been another good year for California pistachios.
- California accounts for 98.5 percent of annual U.S. pistachio production.
“In general, quality looks good,” Andrew says. “It was a good average year for our pistachios. We struggled to control disease during the wet weather early in the season, but the summer was really nice and mild. But, overall, with the weather holding for us through harvest, we can’t complain.”
Pistachio grower Tom Coleman, Fresno, Calif., isn’t complaining, either. Like others his harvest started late this year. His first load left the orchard on Sept. 20 – a good 10 days later than usual. The last load from his 750 acres of trees in Fresno and Madera counties went out on Oct. 13.
The late harvest prompted Coleman to take extra steps to protect his crop from navel orangeworm (NOW).
Normally, he sprays his trees with an insecticide once a season, in late May. Usually, that protects the nuts from the first and second generations of NOW until he can harvest them before the third generation poses a threat. But, with this year’s delayed harvest, the pistachios were still on the trees and vulnerable to late-summer infestations by the third generation of the insect. So, for the first time in more than 30 years, he made two more navel orangeworm sprays, once in August and again in September. This extra cost paid off, he says. Just about every load of nuts he shipped to processors had no insect damage.
Over the past six years, Coleman has been shaking some of his trees a second time to get nuts that weren’t ripe enough to fall off with the first shake. “It takes about 30 days to harvest all our trees,” he says. “I have to start early enough to complete the harvest before it gets too late and the rains start. But, by starting earlier, that means some of the crop isn’t ripe. So, I get what is ready and come back later to get the rest.”
This year he did a two-shake harvest on 160 acres of his heaviest-producing trees.
“Based on what other growers have told me, pistachio production in the state was a very mixed bag, this year,” says Coleman, vice chair of the Administrative Committee for Pistachios, a Federal Marketing Order for pistachios grown in the United States. “In a few orchards in Madera County, the crop was so light that growers didn’t even harvest a crop. And, I’ve heard of others that had the same experience I did — a decent harvest last year and an even better one this year.”
In fact, in three blocks of trees — 18, 19 and 21 years old — he harvested his best yields ever. His heaviest block produced 5,300 pounds of pistachios per acre. That compares to the 2,000-pound per acre yield from his youngest trees, nine years old.
“Except for one block, production this year definitely was a little higher than last year,” Coleman says. “In terms of total production from our orchards this was the best year ever.”
And that’s in what normally would have been an off-year for his alternate-bearing pistachio trees. He suspects this year’s high yields were the result of just so-so production in 2010. “Last year was only an OK on-year, not a strong one, but not bad either,” he says. “As a result, he reasons, his trees had more vigor to push new fruit wood for this year.”
He rates the quality of his pistachios this year as very good, based on nut size, low closed shell percentage and very low levels of insect damage. “Overall, in terms of quality, I think the industry had a pretty good year,” Coleman says.