The epic drought in California caused a top state pistachio leader this spring to uncharacteristically eat his own words. He would have rather chomped down on a snack pack of the little green nuts.

After predicting two years ago that the U.S. pistachio crop would achieve the one-billion-pound production mark as early as 2018, American Pistachio Growers (APG) Executive Director Richard Matoian modified his prediction during his address at the 7th annual APG annual conference held in February in Coronado, Calif.

“Due to the California drought, achieving a one-billion-pound pistachio crop may be a few more years out,” Matoian said. “Whether the industry reaches that level by 2018 will depend on a lot of factors – water availability is the most important.

He also pinned the disappointing news on some plantings which may not achieve expected yields on marginal ground. Yet despite smaller crops in the near term, the APG leader says grower prices should remain strong.

“This is good news for pistachio growers who have producing acres,” Matoian said.

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California growers produce about 99 percent of the nation’s pistachio crop with the balance grown in Arizona and New Mexico.

A drought-caused short crop is expected for other commodities grown in California. Only Mother Nature knows how long the drought will last.

After the drought discussion, Matoian discussed the successes for the pistachio industry and the APG through last year. APG is a trade organization comprised of growers in the tri-state producing area plus member processors.

With just over 300,000 acres (bearing and non-bearing) in California, bearing ground totals about 215,000 acres in the Central Valley – from Merced County in the north to Kern County in the south.

Even with current water shortages, Matoian predicts bearing pistachio acreage should break the 300,000 acre barrier by 2020. At the turn of the century (2000), bearing acreage totaled about 75,000 acres.

“The number of bearing acres has increased dramatically and will continue to increase over the next 4-6 number years.

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The largest pistachio tree plantings in recent years occurred from 2006-2008. About 25,000 acres were planted in 2007, and again last year. Matoian predicts about 14,500 acres of new plantings this year – a large reduction due largely to the drought.

Pistachios are an alternate bearing crop in most growing areas. 2014 is an on year for most California growers.