Pistachio expansion in Spain: a solid long term investment

In many regions of Spain, mainly Castile-La Mancha, Andalusia, Extremadura and Madrid, pistachios are an extensive, fully consolidated crop with over 6,000 hectares of plantations. The uncertain future of many traditional Spanish crops, the possibility to grow pistachios as a complement to traditional crops like olives, cereals, almonds or grapes, and the growing international demand for this dried fruit, as well as the price obtained for it, of around 5 Euro/kilo, are some of the factors that have contributed to the crop's growth in a little over a decade.

This was reported by sources from the agricultural sector and cooperatives, which predict a good future for the country's pistachio plantations. 

Some of its advantages are that the risk of frosts affecting the tree is very small (it flowers in April), it has a long life and the produce is guaranteed to be demanded for direct consumption, roasted dried fruit retailers, bakery and confectionery, or for the elaboration of oils by the cosmetics industry. There are also studies for its potential use as an energy source.

As for obstacles, there can be difficulties in the rootstock's planting, the tree must undergo a long growing process before becoming productive, and the plant material is expensive.

A grafted tree can cost between 10 and 12 Euro, but plenty of operators sell them for up to 50.

Castile-La Mancha is Spain's leading region, with 4,000 hectares, 300 growers and 1 million kilos harvested in Ciudad Real (Viso del Marqués, Valdepeñas, Piedrabuena, Cózar); Albacete (Balazote and Villarrobledo) and Toledo (Los Yébenes, Mazarambroz and Orgaz), according to data provided by Castile-La Mancha's General Directorate for Agriculture and Livestock.

The crop's success is reflected in the existence of two producer associations (one of them being SAT Pistamancha) and three pistachio processing facilities, SAT del Campo (Villacañas), SAT 378 CM Pistamancha (Tomelloso) and Horneados Vegetales S.A. (Manzanares).

Jesús Ángel Peñaranda Núñez, of the technical services from the Region's Agri-food Cooperatives, explained that an increasing number of associations are opting for the crop's introduction, mostly for organic production, due to its high profitability compared to more traditional products and because of shortages of the dried fruit in the domestic market.

According to Faostat, Spain is still very far from the production volumes of countries like Iran (300,000 tonnes), the United States (127,000 t), Turkey (40,000 t), Syria (39,000 t), China (26,000 t), Greece (9,000 t), Italy (3,000 t), Afghanistan (3,000 t) or Tunisia (1,500 t), but it is growing rapidly.

Castile-La Mancha's first plantations are between 15 and 18 years old, although the true boom happened ten years ago, stressed José Antonio Garrido, regional technician for Asaja, who reminded that the crop will continue expanding, even if growers have to wait between 7 and 8 campaigns for the trees to start bearing fruit.

Garrido assured that the Kerman variety has become the most common, as it adapts well to the region's weather conditions, reaches good calibres and has an excellent flavour.

Asaja's technician believes that the Spanish production will never manage to cover all demand (Spain imports over 12,000 tonnes per year), and thus domestic demand is sure to absorb the entire production.

For its part, Andalusia has around 1,000 hectares, mainly in Granada, with 150 hectares, as well as in Seville, Cadiz, Almeria, Cordoba and Jaen, although this figure is expected to skyrocket in the coming years.

Francisco García is the president of Andalusia's Pistachio Producers Association, which gave rise to the Agricultural Transformation Society (SAT) "Pistachos de Andalucía". His entity collaborates with the High Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), Andalusia's Government and the University of Granada in the search for better, low-cost genetic material.

They are confident to be able to start marketing pistachios in two or three years, and to have the capacity to process the production and conduct business with chocolate, nougat and ice cream manufacturers, although a 480,000 Euro investment in equipment will still be necessary to achieve this.

Meanwhile, the Catalan company Foment Agrícola de Les Garrigues owns 150 out of the 350 hectares currently planted in the region and markets pistachios for fresh consumption or processed for confectionery and other food items. It surpasses the 2 million Euro in revenue, thanks in part to its exports within the gourmet and delicatessen segments.

According to its manager, Joan Altet, some of the firm's export destinations include Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Switzerland and Belgium, stating that "the crop's current expansion in Spain is unstoppable."

Source: agroespana

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