Growers expect 600-million pound harvest, smaller nuts
By TIM HEARDEN
The pistachio crop in California's San Joaquin Valley is a bit smaller than anticipated, but production is still on pace to establish a record, growers say.
The harvest began shortly after Labor Day and should continue through the end of this month. Growers are now expecting to produce about 550 million pounds, which would beat the 2010 production record of 528 million pounds, said Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno-based American Pistachio Growers.
The original estimate was closer to 600 million pounds, but individual nut sizes have tended to be a little smaller than growers had seen in the last couple of years, Matoian said.
"We just don't have as many nuts on the trees," he said.
The problem is similar to what almond growers experienced this year with Nonpareils, their earliest variety. Growers blamed the relentless August heat in the San Joaquin Valley for their nuts coming in lighter than expected and for having more rejects.
Matoian said he had no direct evidence that the heat caused a smaller pistachio crop, but "that seemed to be the only anomaly" among conditions leading up to harvest.
For the Kettleman City, Calif.-based Keenan Farms, the size of the crop and the nuts have been about average, said Zack Raven, the company's grower service manager.
"Everything has been coming off really nice," he said. "The size of the crop has been good. The yield varies from grower to grower, but overall it's a good crop this year. Everyone will be happy."
The harvest comes as shipments are up about 23 percent from last year, as domestic shipments have risen 26 percent and exports are up 20 percent, Matoian said.
"The inventory going into this year was estimated to be probably the second lowest in history," he said. "That's both a good and a bad situation -- the good meaning buyers are buying the product, and when you have a strong demand you have strong returns to growers.
"On the negative side, without an adequate carryover it means you can't necessarily supply all of your customers," he said. "From what I understand, some customers were given the product they needed while others were able to hold on until the new crop was harvested."
The tight supply appears to be pushing wholesale prices up; they've risen 20 cents a pound over the last two months to as much as $3.85 for open, in-shell nuts, Matoian said.
Pistachios are a rising star among nuts, with about 153,000 bearing acres in California. They've joined almonds and walnuts in a production and value boom in recent years.
American Pistachio Growers: http://americanpistachios.org/
Keenan Farms: http://keenanpistachio.com/index.html