The 2010 pistachio crop looks like it could come close to, if not exceed last year’s 354-million pound crop — at least that’s how Andy Anzaldo, director of grower relations for Paramount Farms, sizes things up.

Based on what’s he’s seeing in orchards this season, he expects California growers to harvest between 350 million and 390 million pounds of pistachios this fall.

The upper limit reflects what Anzaldo says is the higher production potential of younger trees, particularly those on the West Side in Kern, Kings and Fresno counties, compared to last year.

In 2009, an on-year, those trees under-performed, producing only moderate yields of 2,500 to 3,500 pounds. Many growers, he says, were expecting 4,000-pound crops from younger orchards, about the same as from mature trees. Last year’s poor bloom, due to frost, resulted in an unusually high number of blanks.

The bloom this spring was also disrupted, but it was by the 2 inches to 4 inches of rain and below normal temperatures when the trees were blooming. The impact of this cool, wet weather on bloom was less drastic than sub-freezing temperatures, Anzaldo says.

“Now, we’re in the middle of nut fill and the yields of young trees look to be about 10 percent to 20 percent better than last year.”

His 350-million-pound estimate for the 2010 crop reflects the increased possibility of rain during a late harvest. Because of the slow start of this year’s crop, he expects most of the trees will be harvested in late September, a week or two later than usual. Rain then would probably mean a greater possibility of diseases, like alternaria and botryosphaeria. “If disease sets in, it will be a race to complete the harvest,” he says.

Should that happen or insect pressures increase, Anzaldo expects most growers will go to a two-shake harvest. Starting 7 days to 10 days earlier than they would otherwise, growers will bump or lightly shake the trees for 3 to 5 seconds, instead of the typical 5 to 8 seconds. That should remove about 60 percent to 70 percent of the mature nuts, he says. Two or three weeks after that, they’ll shake the trees normally to drop the later-maturing nuts.

Growers can expect prices to be higher this year than last. In the third week of July, Paramount Farms announced a split in-shell price, including the maximum quality bonus, of $2.50 per pound and a kernel price of $3 per pound.

“Those are the highest prices ever paid to growers before harvest in the history of the industry,” Anzaldo says. They are substantially higher than last year’s final price for split in-shell of $2.25, which was 45 cents-a-pound higher than the $1.80 per pound offered at the start of last season.

He credits the strong 2010 crop prices to high export demand, driven by China; this year’s poor crop in Iran, following two years of frost damage to trees; and Paramount’s $15 million Get Crackin’ domestic marketing program with bolstering demand for pistachio’s following last year’s salmonella recall.