A recent California Agricultural Statistics Service (CASS) objective measurement survey estimated this year’s harvest to produce 180 million pounds. Based on the survey and past production data, marketable open in-shell is estimated to reach 144 million pounds, approximately 80 percent of total production.

This is an off-year for alternate bearing pistachios.

Last year California’s pistachio producers produced a record 302.4 million pounds. Marketable open in shell reached 241.6 million pounds.

In contrast, the 2001 off-year crop produced 160 million pounds with 125.8 million pounds of marketable open in-shell, representing 78.5 percent of the total production.

For 2003, the overall average number of clusters per tree decreased 42 percent to 462 from the previous year. The average cluster per tree for Atlantica (616 clusters per tree), Pioneer Gold 1 (372 clusters per tree) and Pioneer Gold II (606 clusters per tree) all decreased from the previous year by 47, 38 and 43 percent respectively. The average number of nuts per cluster increased considerably from 13.8 to 20.6 nuts per cluster.

The value of last year’s California pistachio crop was more than $336 million. The average grower return last year was $1.11 per pound, the highest since 1999.

18 Percent increase

In the spring, CASS also completed an acreage update survey on behalf of the California Pistachio Commission indicating a current, total acreage at 111,000 acres with 88,000 bearing acres and 23,000 non-bearing. Bearing acreage has increased 18 percent since the last statewide acreage update survey conducted in 2000.

Consumption of California pistachios is expected to go up with news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a much-awaited qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease prevention for immediate use on food labels in response to a petition filed by the International Tree Nut Council’s Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF) in August 2002.

The claim states, "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

"This is fabulous news for pistachio fans," said Karen Reinecke, president of the California Pistachio Commission. "We’ve always known pistachios are a terrific snack as part of a balanced diet. Now, enjoying a handful of pistachios is also considered a smart choice in practicing overall good heart health."

California pistachios contain predominantly monounsaturated fat, shown to lower both total and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. A handful or one-ounce serving of pistachios -- that equates to 49 kernels according to the USDA -- contains 13 grams of total fat with only 1.5 grams being saturated. Pistachios are also naturally cholesterol free. Many recent studies have shown new information on components called phytosterols found in nuts such as pistachios may also be involved with the reduction of heart disease risk.

Awareness campaign

In support of the new FDA health claim, the California Pistachio Commission is launching a new awareness campaign, "Be Good To Your Heart – Living & Snacking the Heart-Healthy Way" to help Americans focus on achieving a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The commission plans to work closely with retailers throughout the country to promote the benefits of enjoying pistachios as part of a heart-healthy diet.

"It’s no secret that it is very important that we take good care of ourselves to enjoy a long and healthy life," added Reinecke. "We know good nutrition and daily physical activity continue to play an important role in being good to your heart. Pistachios easily fit into the busy lifestyles of Americans, making being good to your heart even easier."

The California Pistachio Commission’s consumer awareness campaign also highlights an important initiative that promotes heart health and prevention of heart disease among women. To encourage women to be more aware of the danger of heart disease, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and partner organizations recently launched a national campaign called The Heart Truth – a national awareness campaign about women and heart disease. The centerpiece of The Heart Truth is its Red Dress Project that launched the Red Dress Pin as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness. The red dress symbolizes the fact that "heart disease doesn’t care what you wear, it’s the No. 1 killer of women." For more information visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/hearttruth.

"Heart disease is America’s number one killer of both men and women," according to Susan K. Bennett, MD, a leading cardiologist specializing in women and heart disease and clinical director of the Women’s Heart Program at George Washington University Hospital. "Unfortunately, only about a third of females know that this devastating disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States."

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com