Water issue clouds ‘09 pistachio crop prospects

Paramount Farms is projecting most of the pistachio areas will receive the adequate amount of chilling hours which is at least 800, while most areas will receive 900 to 1,000 by February. “That’s more than optimum,” says Andy Anzaldo, director of grower relations for Paramount Farms, Lost Hills, Calif.

For now it’s a matter of water. “I would say 25-50 percent of the pistachio acreage is in water districts that are currently looking at zero to 15 percent allocation,” he says. “Those growers are going to have to rely on their wells, carryover water or outside purchases to come up with the difference that is necessary to grow an adequate pistachio crop. So time will tell, but it will definitely have an impact on the 2009 crop.”

Pistachios are more tolerant to poor water quality than almonds, depending on the level of water quality. However, there will still probably be some impact. There’s not much growers can do in terms of changing management practices except tweak irrigation, according to Anzaldo.

“Pistachio growers are very water efficient already. I would estimate 99 percent of the pistachio acreage in California is under some form of micro irrigation. What you’ll see is growers looking at past research that has been done in the industry and utilize the water they have as efficiently as possible to minimize quality and yield reductions.”

Pistachio trees can tolerate less water than other trees, but timing is key.

“Phase two is generally when you can stress the trees and have less damage,” Anzaldo says. “That date typically in a normal year is mid-May to mid-June. Studies have shown that stressing trees in July and August will definitely have a severe impact on quality and yield.”

It is essential to refill the profile during the winter to maintain good shoot and yield growth for the following year, according to Blake Sanden, Kern County UCCE Farm Advisor. “For single line drip systems at 4 gallons per hour per tree on clay soils this may require a total of 8-18 total days of run time, depending on the age and vigor of the trees.”

In spite of the challenges, the industry is looking forward to a respectable crop in 2009, according to Anzaldo. “Right now, looking at the fruit buds, we’re projecting 350-400 million pounds depending on the availability of water and our bloom conditions.”

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