Pistachio crop outlook promising as harvest begins

Pest control advisers (PCAs) across California are reporting heavy crop loads in pistachios after relatively low pest and disease pressure this year. Additionally, season-long favorable weather conditions have added to what is shaping up to be a bountiful crop.

“The crop in Kern County still appears to be a record,” says Craig Kallsen, UCCE Kern County farm advisor. “As usual, with a huge ‘on’ year, individual nut weight appears to be down slightly. The crop is more difficult to shake from the tree, probably a result of variable nut maturity, and there was considerable late-stage kernel abortion in some orchards.”

Some PCAs and growers are predicting yields as high as 5,000-6,000 pounds or more per acre.

“I would say the industry, as a whole, is about 20 percent finished harvesting,” says Brian Blackwell, grower and vice chairman of the Western Pistachio Association. “It looks as if we’re on track to harvest 400 million pounds. We were a little worried about the latest threat of rain, but it doesnb’t look like even that will materialize.”

Late season disease and pest concerns aren’t throwing much of a monkeywrench into the scenario. “Disease and navel orangeworm (NOW) pressure appear to be light,” Kallsen says.

The only glitch has been a lot of green fruit on the tree, according to Blackwell. “Some growers have had to shake a second time.”

For growers, the next step will be preparing for next season. “Luckily, pistachio growers have a little more leeway than almond growers when it comes to refilling the soil profile,” says Blake Sanden, also a UCCE Kern County farm advisor.

“The good news for this drought year is that, if you have run out of district water, you can cut off irrigation now and wait until winter to refill the profile without hurting next year’s crop. This can potentially save 6 inches to 8 inches of water, depending on soil type and the age and vigor of the orchard.”

On the marketing side, the newly-formed Western Pistachio Association (WPA) is attempting to pick up the pieces of the now-defunct California Pistachio Commission. The latter was voted out of existence earlier this spring, due largely to Paramount Farms’ unwillingness to support it.

“We’re trying to fill the gaps,” says Catherine Byrnes, office administrator for WPA. “We’re funding nutritional research and production research, and we’ve retained Henson Consulting to continue promotional activities.”

Grower interest in the new association appears to be quite strong, according to Blackwell.

“Our membership has grown dramatically in the past few months from growers of both non-bearing and bearing trees. We currently have a 20-member board. Growers are voluntarily assessing themselves at a rate of 1.75 cents per pound of dry marketable in-shell product, in addition to the original dues of $5 an acre. Many of the processors have started voluntary checkoff programs to make it easier for growers to participate and for the association to succeed.”

The association is also actively involved in governmental affairs, most notably taking on the effort to improve access to key markets such as South Korea, Mexico, and Israel. The board has also approved a substantial contribution for support for initiation of a statewide Pistachio Research Advisory Board. If approved by growers in an October vote, CDFA estimates it will be in place by early 2008.

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