California Pistachios Are Set For Record Year

California Pistachios Make Comeback in 2016


By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

California produces close to 99 percent of the nation’s pistachios. With harvest season just about wrapped up, growers are pleased with this year’s crop. 

Last year was a slow one for pistachios, with only 275 million pounds produced.  Because pistachios are alternate-bearing [tendency for an entire tree to produce a greater than average crop one year and a lower than average crop the following year], last year’s disappointing crop allowed the trees to rest before producing this year’s estimated record crop. 

Richard Matoian, executive director, American Pistachio Growers, estimated this year’s crop to be between 830 and 850 million pounds. The last record-setting crop was in 2012 when growers produced 555 million pounds of pistachios.  This year, some California growers have reported broken branches due to the heaviness of the crop, a phenominon Matoian has never seen before.  

Just as last year’s lower harvest enabled the pistachio trees to bounce back this year, increased rainfall last winter helped improve irrigation supplies for the nut trees this year. 

In addition, more chilling hours last winter also helped boost production.  Pistachio trees require cold nights, with at least 800 hours of temperatures below 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  This winter, trees experienced more than 1,000 hours of those conditions. 

Reports indicate that the pistachio crop from Iran, one of our biggest global competitors, is a bit down this year, which could help California growers get a better price for their pistachios.  “We all hope and try to keep the market as strong as it can be,” said Matoian, “but there are market forces at work. You can’t hold on to a crop forever. You have to be conscious of what the world supply is, and so a number of factors go into setting a price.”

Growers are pleased with the overall size of the harvest compared to last year, but they’re also a bit concerned about the prices. “The initial price the growers got last year was somewhere between $2 and about $2.20 per pound. Now we are at a $1.60 to about $1.80 per pound,” Matoian said.

Pistachio Crop Insurance Due Dec. 31

Pistachio Crop Insurance Recommended for 2016

Upcoming Deadline is Dec.31

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Due to the warm winter weather this year, many California Pistachio growers’ crop yields were only slightly more than half of what was expected.  And despite having an existing risk management insurance program, which helped a lot of growers, others who did not have pistachio crop insurance will have to shoulder all their losses.

James Otto, a senior risk specialist with the USDA Risk Management Agency at the Davis Regional Office, commented, “A lot of growers did not take it due to risk management reasons, they were unaware of it, or their agents did not inform them of the availability of pistachio crop insurance.”

And for growers considering purchasing insurance for next season, Otto urges them to be aware of the upcoming December 31, 2015 deadline. “Growers have to sign up for the insurance by that date,” he said. “Signing up can be complicated in that growers must agree to take insurance for two consecutive years, and they also must agree to what coverage level and price percentage to take. Growers are locked in for a two-year policy, but each year stands on its own.”


Payments are based on average yields and the coverage the grower elects. Otto said, “There are some fundamental basics. You have to determine what your average yield is; if it is 2,000 pounds per acre, growers have to select a coverage level (50%, 65%, 70%…),” which is used to adjust the insurance premium rates. Given their chosen coverage level, if their production for the year drops below this level, growers would be compensated for the shortfall by the insurance policy.

“So, for example,” he said, if a grower’s average yield is 3,000 lbs., and he has taken a 65% coverage level—which is roughly 2,000 pounds, if his average yield for this year is 1200 lbs., the result is an 800-pound shortage. The grower gets paid an indemnity of 800 pounds, times an established price.”

Richard Matoian, director, American Pistachio Growers based in Fresno, said pistachio growers should definitely consider risk management insurance, “We think all growers should consider crop insurance, even at the most minimal level—which is what they call “cat” or “catastrophic”—as a risk management tool for operations. In a year like this year in which we had historically low yields on a per-acre basis, crop insurance for many growers is going to be their savior to keep them going.”

Interestingly, Otto explained, Nick Jerkovich, an insurance broker with All Crop Insurance Services, in the Fresno County town of Kerman, Calif., came up with the idea. Otto said, “Back in 2009, Nick mentioned there were a lot of pistachio trees in the ground that did not have a crop insurance program.” It was recommended to Nick to get a petition signed by multiple growers and gather acreage data.

“So Nick, on his own dime, calculated roughly 75-80% of the acreage in the value, submitted that to an administrator, and got the ball rolling.” Otto said Jerkovich’s proaction suggested, “Hey, there is interest! There is interest from the grassroots.” Otto continued, “Based on that initial letter, Risk Management Agency contracted out to have the program developed. It is interesting to see what one individual person achieve!”

New APG Ambassadors Shine!

American Pistachio Growers Introduces New Ambassadors 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor, California Ag Today

American Pistachio Growers (APG) held its annual summer luncheon late last week in Visalia, shared the organization’s marketing plans with a large crowd of growers, and introduced the newest APG ambassadors.

Richard Matoian, executive director of APG, framed the meeting, “We’re voting on our budget for the upcoming year, so it is a good opportunity to tell our growers what we are doing on their behalf to promote and to help sell pistachios.”

From Left, Sanya Jones, Cheryl Forberg and Judy Hirigoyen, APG
From Left, Sanya Jones, Cheryl Forberg and Judy Hirigoyen, APG

Bree Morse, recently crowned Miss California and now serving as an ambassador for American Pistachio Growers, effused, “We have so many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities being here today at the annual luncheon. It’s neat today because I get to meet and interact with the people in the industry, APG staff and the growers themselves, who are behind what I’m representing. We have amazing opportunities; I get to go to China in December to be Ambassador of American Pistachios abroad, and I’m just really excited to be the face of pistachios.”

Another great APG Ambassador introduced at the lunch was Sanya Jones, the recent Season 16 Biggest Loser television show runner-up, who lost 144 pounds. And guess what? Jones considers pistachios an important part of her success, “Well the funny thing is, I always loved pistachios. I would always get them for my dad as a kid and we would sit in front of the tv and eat them mindlessly.” Anecdotally, Jones shared that pistachios was the one food that her dad would put his teeth in to eat!

“But once I got to the ranch,” Jones continued, “Cheryl Forberg, chef and nutritionist for the tv show, got them on the menu for us. Pistachios are nice when you are a food-addict or a bulk-eater because they make you slow down. I can’t just inhale them; I have to slow down and crack them open. Plus, they are so nutritionally wonderful and keep me fuller longer.”

Who can argue with success?

Featured Photo: Bree Morse, Miss California

Nut Yields May Be Reduced by Drought

Source: Christine Souza; Ag Alert

Enduring a drought that has lasted several years, growers of California’s primary nut crops—almonds, walnuts and pistachios—are finishing this year’s harvest and planning for what Mother Nature may or may not bring in the coming year.

“Location, location, location” proved critical to almond and pistachio crops in particular, and seemed to be the determining factor in whether trees had enough water and the required number of chilling hours.

Some farmers were luckier than others, including Larry Lowder of Madera. A grower of almonds and pistachios, Lowder said he was “very fortunate where we live and this year we were able to produce a crop, where others didn’t have that luxury.” He said his farm is located in a microclimate that received sufficient chilling hours during the winter, something that was lacking in other parts of the Central Valley.

Dealing with a surface water allocation of zero, Lowder said he had to rely on deep wells, and he saved as much water as possible by using drip irrigation, microsprinklers and upgraded wells.

Even with a relatively favorable situation, Lowder said his almond yields were down by about 10 percent, although pistachio yields were much better.

In some California pistachio and almond orchards, the drought resulted in a shorter crop and a higher incidence of “blanks,” when a shell lacks a viable nut or kernel.

“Some growers, who had the effect of poor pollinization as well as lack of water, their crops were significantly off and there will be crop insurance claims filed,” said Richard Matoian, executive director of Fresno-based American Pistachio Growers. “One grower said the orchard looked like it had 3,500 pounds per acre, but ended up with 800 pounds of nuts to the acre.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated this year’s California pistachio crop at between 485 million and 500 million pounds, Matoian said, which is smaller than expected because it was to be an “on year” for pistachios. New figures from the Administrative Committee for Pistachios have increased the estimate to 515 million pounds, which Matoian said was “larger than expected in midsummer but certainly lower than original expectations.”

Many pistachio growers purchased emergency supplies of water, Matoian said, paying as much as $3,000 per acre-foot. Reports from the almond sector showed some growers paid between $1,200 and $2,200 per acre-foot.

Reflecting on how almond growers negotiated the drought, Mel Machado, assistant director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers, said some orchards were either removed or abandoned, and water was moved from older blocks of trees to younger blocks.

“Growers have learned a lot about how to manage the water they have, but even with good technology and good application, there are orchards that definitely had increased stress this year,” Machado said. “You can see it in the lack of growth of the trees.”

Farmer Stan Wilson of Shafter grows almonds and other crops, and said he made it through this season on well water, but had to reactivate old wells, add extensions to pumps and install an underground pipeline so that he could move water from one field to another.

“We made it through the year. We had no surface water at all, so the only water supply we had was from wells. It is the first year we had zero deliveries,” said Wilson, who fallowed about 160 acres of row crops as a result of the drought.

With harvest drawing to a close, Machado reported that this year’s almond crop is hovering at around 1.85 billion pounds, down from the earlier government estimate of 2.1 billion pounds. Machado said he has seen higher levels of rejects in the almonds produced, but there were problems in addition to drought that played a part, such as varying degrees of stress and salinity issues.

“Quite frankly, we needed the 2.1 billion pounds. A lot of people look at orchards planted over the past few years and say, ‘What are you going to do with those when they come into production?’ Well, we’re going to market them. There is demand out there for the product. We’re still in a demand-exceeds-supply situation,” Machado said.

With just a few more weeks left of harvest, California walnut growers expect a crop that is 545,000 tons, which would be a record, said Dennis Balint, CEO of the California Walnut Commission. No official production figure will be known until harvest is complete, but Balint attributed the expected increase to newly planted orchards and young orchards that are coming into production with higher yields.

He, too, reported continued strong demand.

“Traditionally, we’ve been the ingredient nut, but demand for walnuts is strong and health benefits are starting to drive demand for walnuts. We are seeing more snacking, which we are pleased with,” Balint said.

Marketers said the increasing demand for California nut crops in domestic and global markets is good news for growers. There are 200,000 bearing acres of pistachios in California, and 100,000 acres are non-bearing, Matoian said. For almonds, USDA reported there are 860,000 bearing acres, with 80,000 non-bearing acres. There are an estimated 280,000 bearing acres of walnuts in California, and 45,000 acres that are non-bearing.

For the almond business, Machado said, “the limitation on the crop is going to be water. Water is going to be the competing factor for the almond crop, just as it is for just about every other crop in the Central Valley.”

As winter approaches, nut growers said they are hopeful that the state’s water situation changes for the better, although, Matoian said, “Even if we have a good rain year, we are going to have a lack of water available to growers; that is inevitable. That is what we’re being told by water regulators.”