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State and national festivities come as the latest harvest exceeded expectations.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

February 3, 2022

3 Min Read
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The latest pistachio crop could wind up totaling 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion pounds, according to American Pistachio Growers President Richard Matoian.American Pistachio Growers

Whatever you call them -- Happy Nuts in China, Smiling Nuts in Iran, or plain old pistachios in the U.S. of A. — these “little green almonds” that have been with us for over 9,000 years have earned their increased popularity.

Introduced in experimental plantings in California in the 1930s and harvested for the first time as a commercial crop in 1976, the state has become the leading U.S. producer recording some 300 million pounds each year.

The increasing popularity has resulted in celebration via a National Pistachio Day (Feb. 26), preceded by California Pistachio Day festivities already enjoyed this year in late January.

Pistachio growers were expecting an off-year reduced crop in 2021, but the harvest appears to be surpassing initial expectations.  “Since we hit the billion-pound mark in 2020, we anticipated a below-billion crop this year, but Mother Nature appears to have thrown in a nice surprise,” said American Pistachio Growers President Richard Matoian.

“This year’s crop should be phenomenal, in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 billion pounds,” he anticipates.

Which is good news for consumers.  According to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, America’s pistachio competitors are having a tough year.  Expectations are that the 2021/2022 U.S. crop will be a large off-year yield with a relatively large carry-over which will help stabilize supply,” they report.

“New plantings are going in at a rate of 5-7% annual increase with some of the new plantings entering production and reflected in the 2021 crop,” their report said. “Some of the pandemic-related habits that led to a 10% consumption increase in the snacking category are expected to continue in the long term.”

Gaining market share

Conversely, the Iran Pistachio Association anticipates a current in-shell crop of 150,000 metric tons because of both heat damage and severe frost.  In Turkey, where weather conditions were less severe, the new crop is forecast to yield around 89,000 metric tons, in-shell.

One farm investment entity (AcreTrader) reports: “California’s pistachio acreage has increased by 110% in the past decade, mirroring a global trend in which world pistachio production steadily grew (and) consumption kept pace.”

When it comes to official nut numbers, USDA NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) would traditionally provide growers with predicted production stats and promised to do so for growers of pecans.  Over 2,500 producers from across the country were asked to measure their 2021 acreage and pecan production so that “data collected will help set acreage and production estimates at both the state and U.S. level.”

That didn’t happen because in early December 2020, NASS announced the Crop Production Report “will not contain forecasted pecan production estimates.  Also, NASS will not publish the January 2022 Pecan Production report that typically contains preliminary acreage, yield, production, price, and value estimates.”  Lack of funding was cited as the reason for suspending the customary estimates.

Despite the lack of availability for some nut crop yields, APG’s Matoian has happily had to revise his State of the Pistachio Industry speech to reflect the off-year increase.

“We weren’t expecting to have as large a crop as our record-breaking 2020 harvest,” he told Western Farm Press.  “Although final numbers are still trickling in, this ‘off’ year will be the largest year in pistachio production history at 1.16 billion pounds --- a surprise to most of us in the industry.”

He cites the amount of new acreage now coming into production and younger trees producing at a higher rate than fledgling trees of the past as two reasons for the unanticipated increase and predicts that next year, an ‘on’ year, will produce “well over 1.2 billion pounds.”

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