2015: A Year To Forget For Pistachio Growers

2015: A Year To Forget For Pistachio Growers

This year, 2016, appears to be a far more normal year for pistachios than 2015, which saw very low yields. (Photo credit: American Pistachio Growers)

This year, 2016, appears to be a far more normal year for pistachios than 2015, which saw very low yields. (Photo credit: American Pistachio Growers)

It looks like the 2016 pistachio crop will be larger than last year’s, which is a good thing because last year’s crop was shockingly small.

“We now know the exact size — 275 million pounds, 99% from California,” says Richard Matoian, the executive director of American Pistachio Growers, a voluntary grower association based in Fresno, CA. “We knew it would be an ‘off’ year, but we were expecting about 500 million pounds.”

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Pistachios are notorious for their biennial production habits, but 2015 was ridiculous, says Matoian, noting the previous year’s crop was 518 million pounds. That was an ‘on’ year, but the previous off year, 2013, produced 475 million pounds. In the year before that, 2012, a total of 555 million pounds was produced.

The crop was expected to be much larger because there is a lot of new acreage coming into production, he notes. But instead of getting larger, it was the smallest crop since 2008.

“But that year we had 100,000 fewer (bearing) acres,” he notes.

Heavy Planting
In 2008 there was a total of just 120,000 acres, but buoyed by strong sales, growers have been planting many more orchards. In 2015, there were 225,000 bearing acres. This year there are about 300,000 acres in the ground, about 235,000 of those bearing acres. Pistachios are notoriously precocious, taking seven years from planting to production.

Matoian doesn’t see anything close to a repeat of 2015’s dismal production this coming year for several reasons. First off, it is an ‘on’ year. Second, there has been much more precipitation than there was in the winter of 2014-15.

But perhaps most importantly, this past winter there have been many more chill hours — temperatures under 45°F degrees that allow the trees to ‘sleep.’ In the winter of 2014-15, Fresno received 589. This winter, they expect a total of 800-900. In the Westlands district, they got just 567, and this year they had 897 by mid-February.

“It’s much more normal,” Matoian says. “As I talk to growers, they say they believe they are going to be back to a normal cropping year.”

In fact, a lot of growers are estimating as much 600 million pounds this year.

However, Matoian notes that a lot can happen between now and harvest, which is normally from early September to mid-October. Indeed, a lot of growers were caught off guard this past fall because many of the trees that looked normal had plenty of shells, but they were blanks.