By the time California’s pistachio growers finished shaking their trees late last October, they had brought in their second biggest-ever crop — a total of 448 million pounds of nuts. That’s at the top end of the range of earlier projections by industry observers who had estimated that the 2011 crop — an off-year for the alternative bearing trees — would weigh in at between about 400 and 450 million pounds.

This final figure, released by the Administrative Committee for Pistachios, is down from the record 2010 crop of 528 million pounds. But, it’s a hefty jump up from the 354-million-pound crop of 2009.

Last year’s cooler-than-usual spring temperatures favored development of larger shells. As a result, many growers harvested nuts that were about a size larger than typical, says Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Association, based in Fresno, Calif. “There may have been a little more staining due to fairly heavy rain during harvest, but insect damage tended to be lower than normal.” Like 2010, when growers experienced similar weather during the season, the 2011 harvest started about a week later than usual. But, with a smaller crop, growers completed their harvest by the end of October. In 2010 they worked into November to finish up.

Because of a higher-than-normal carryover from the huge 2010 production, prices initially offered growers for their newly-harvested 2011 crop were at about $2.20 per pound for open in-shell nuts. Although a little lower than a year earlier, those prices are still strong. Matoian expects pistachio prices to remain stable, if not increase, through the rest of this marketing year which ends Aug. 31.

“In the meantime, demand for U.S. pistachios continues to grow, especially in China and other Asian markets, which continue to be bright spots for our producers,” he says.

This past fall, Matoian notes, India reduced its tariff on U.S. products from 30 percent to 10 percent and the recent signing of a free-trade agreement will eliminate a 30-percent tariff on U.S. products going into Korea.

Also, shipments of pistachios here at home are 25 percent higher than a year ago. “In the first four months of this marketing year, we’re seeing very positive trends,” Matoian adds.