Paramount Farms International (Paramount), the world’s largest pistachio processor, predicts U.S. commercial pistachio production could achieve the 1 billion-pound milestone between 2018 to 2020.

If this estimate is accurate, the U.S. commercial pistachio industry would have matured from its first plantings in Chico, Calif., to a 1-billion-pounder crop in a little more than 30 years.

This bullish projection of 1 billion pounds in the next six to eight years is according to Andy Anzaldo, Paramount’s general manager of grower relations.

Paramount is the largest pistachio processor in the world, processing 60 percent of the California crop. California growers produce about 95 percent of the U.S. pistachio crop. Paramount is the largest pistachio producer in the Golden State.

The company also ranks No. 1 in almond production.

“Paramount Farms predicts the 2012 U.S. pistachio crop could reach the 550 million pound to 575 million pound range,” Anzaldo said.

Based on this prediction, the math reveals a required annual crop growth of 10 percent to 12 percent for the next six-to-eight consecutive years to achieve 1-billion-pounds.

Western Farm Press met with Anzaldo at Paramount’s main Lost Hills processing facility just days before the company kicked off its 2012 harvest season in early September.

The top California-pistachio production counties include Kern, Madera, Fresno, Kings, and Tulare, respectively. The balance is grown in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The U.S. took over the reins last year from Iran as the world’s largest pistachio producer.

Anzaldo pegs current California pistachio plantings at 168,000 bearing acres and 75,000 non-bearing acres for about 243,000 acres total. He predicts plantings of 15,000 to 20,000 new acres of pistachios in California next year.

About seven years are required from planting to harvest the tree’s first commercial crop.

Paramount farms about 30,000 acres of pistachios in California; about 25 percent of the state’s acreage. In addition, about 600 producers grow pistachios for Paramount under contract. The pistachios are harvested at the company’s four processing locations.

For California’s top tree nut crops — almonds, walnuts and pistachios, the industry has achieved substantial growth strides over the years. Almonds, the state’s largest tree nut crop, achieved 1-billion-pound crop status about a decade ago, and now have leapfrogged to 2 billion-pounds — doubling production in just 10 years.

Financially, Anzaldo says pistachios have generated about three times more net income for growers than almonds and walnuts over the last decade.

“The grower net return for pistachios has been about $3,000 pounds per acre on average over the last 10 years,” Anzaldo said. “Almonds and walnuts over the same time period generated an average of $1,000 annually.”

The Paramount leader noted, “There is no question that the pistachio is a very profitable tree nut.”

Paramount’s 2012 opening minimum pistachio prices released in July were $2.10 per pound split inshell and $2.75 per pound for kernels; the same opening price as last year. Last year’s split inshell price later increased to $2.65 per pound.

Anzaldo predicts average nut quality and size this year. Nut size has been larger over the last several years.