By CECILIA PARSONS

Capital Press

Harvest of California's largest pistachio crop on record has begun.

Shakers began moving into orchards the first week of September and harvest activity is peaking this week, said Richard Matoian, executive director of Western Pistachio Association.

The 425 million pound crop exceeds the 2007 crop by 10 million pounds.

Matoian said overall crop quality is good, but individual nut size may be down slightly due to the larger crop.

Pistachios are an alternate bearing crop so growers should expect a lighter crop in 2010.

The number of new acres coming into production next year will not be enough to off set the smaller crop, Matoian said.

Bearing acres of pistachio trees have been steadily rising since 1998. In 2007, there were 114,000 acres in production. Yield per acre was just over 3,600 pounds.

Pistachios are ready to harvest when the interior shell splits open and the hull turns a reddish color. According to Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the hull must be removed and the nuts dried within 12-124 hours from harvest or the shell becomes stained. The majority of the crop is sold in shell.

In 2008, a light crop year, a 278 million pound crop was harvested. It was valued at $539 million and brought $1.94 per pound.

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