Pistachio production is poised to soar in California with about 60,000 acres of trees expected to enter bearing production over the next three years, Blackwell says. About 16,000 acres of pistachio trees will shift from non-bearing to bearing status this year. In 2012, about 25,000 acres will enter the bearing fold, with another 19,000 acres in 2013.

“In a few short years these additional acres could add 200 million pounds of pistachios to a total potential (statewide) crop of 700 to 800 million pounds,” said Blackwell.

The WPA is a voluntary agricultural trade organization representing growers, processors, and industry representatives in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. WPA funding includes a voluntary assessment of a quarter-cent per dry in-shell pound plus $5 (voluntary) per acre for non-bearing acreage.

Matoian points to three promising signs for the U.S. pistachio industry: the recent record crop, the current ban on Iranian pistachio imports into the U.S., and increasing global demand for pistachios.

“The industry is poised for growth and forward momentum,” Matoian explained.

The U.S. Pistachio Conference focused heavily on marketing. Several pistachio marketers concurred that market development must precede increased pistachio production. To expand its marketing outreach, the WPA last fall hired Judy Hirigoyen as its global marketing director.

Major global markets for U.S. pistachios include China, the European Community, and India. Iran is the world’s largest pistachio producer followed by the United States and Turkey.

Tree nuts – almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and others – are gaining worldwide favor with consumers due to the nuts’ wide-ranging health benefits.

“The U.S. pistachio has surpassed Iran as the No. 1 supplier to China due to its high quality,” Robin Wang told the crowd to a round of applause.

Wang, director of SMH International, a China-based marketing firm, is working with the WPA to boost U.S. pistachio consumption in China. China currently imports more than 10 percent of world pistachio production. In the Chinese language, pistachio means “happy nut.”

As other Western tree nut industries can attest, China is a growing market. The country’s rapidly growing middle class is demanding higher quality food with more protein. China, already with 1.3 billion people, has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world.

More and more Chinese can afford tree nuts. Wang says China’s gross domestic product increased more than 10 percent last year. Urban household disposable income increased 11.3 percent. China is expected to become the world’s largest retail market by 2020. Wealthy Chinese buy one quarter of the world’s luxury goods.

The Chinese lifestyle embraces many Western world influences ranging from food to music. Starbucks coffee houses are abundant. A new KFC restaurant opens daily in China.

Wang says the top tree nuts consumed by Chinese include walnut, almond, hazelnut, and pistachio.

“Chinese consumers consider nutrition benefits, food safety, nutrition benefits, food safety, and a healthy lifestyle,” Wang explained. “They prefer to import food products.”

Imported food is preferred due to food safety breaches in China-grown farm products. Wang says Chinese consumers are concerned about overuse of pesticides in Chinese-grown vegetables. The plastic product melamine was found in Chinese-produced milk in 2008 which was linked to infant deaths and other physical complications.

“Chinese consumers have lost the confidence of ‘Made in China, ’” Wang said.

cblake@farmpress.com