Early indications suggest 2015 could yield a smaller harvest for California pistachio growers. A shortage of chilling hours is largely to blame though the drought is not without complicity in the matter.
Growers cite a trifecta of chilling hours, water availability and water quality, which could result in lower yields.
“We’re seeing some orchards in California with up to 70 percent blanking,” said Jim Zion, managing partner with Meridian Growers in Fresno, Calif.
Nut size also appears small, Zion said. Other issues affecting the crop appear to be erratic maturity, which could extend the harvest and force growers to shake trees more than once. Such is not the case across the board as Zion said some California orchards “definitely look better than others.”
Nuts with closed shells could also present a problem for marketers this season.
Zion cautions that crop size and other issues will be easier to judge once harvest is under way in September. Still, he predicts “a difficult year for marketing.”
Pistachio grower and Pioneer Nursery co-owner Corky Anderson agrees that the crop “will be short this year.”
One bright spot seems to be Arizona as this year’s crop could yield close to last year’s, according to Zion.
Despite the negative news about crop yields within the pistachio industry this year, growers have generally enjoyed positive trends marketing the popular tree nut in the past several years. Since the formative days of the American Pistachio Growers organization, exports have risen by several hundred percent while domestic consumption is up 16 percent.
According to Judy Hirigoyen, vice president of global marketing for American Pistachio Growers, Asia, five countries in Europe and the United States remain the target markets for American pistachios. Total exports to APG target markets since 2003 are up over 700 percent.
In spite of what could be a bad year for pistachio growers, APG Executive Director Richard Matoian says returns to pistachio growers remain among the highest of the big-three tree nuts – pistachios, almonds and walnuts – grown in California.
Success in the pistachio industry has also driven membership and an internal strategy shift with the organization’s budget, according to Matoian. Currently about 80 percent of the organization’s budget is spent marketing pistachios, up from 31 percent in 2008.
Membership is also up 79 percent from 2008 to over 600 individuals and organizations.
Part of that marketing is targeted at health professionals and social influencers to encourage consumption of pistachios. APG has partnered with several key professionals, including Miss California, Tour de France bicycle racer Mark Cavendish, Registered Dietician and nutritionist for the television show “Biggest Loser” Cheryl Forberg and others.
At the annual APG luncheon in Visalia, Calif., “Biggest Loser” runner up Sonya Jones spoke to growers about her time spent on the reality show, and how pistachios became a daily snack routine for her.
Jones says she still snacks on pistachios every day as part of her routine to maintain her weight loss. Jones lost 120 pounds over the four-month course of her time on the television show.