American Pistachio Growers are predicting to produce 1 billion lbs. of pistachios this year, which is the first time they will hit that tonnage.
And according to Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers in Fresno, Ca., this kind of milestone is a long time in the making. It also solidifies the US' role as the lead producer worldwide of pistachios, taking over from strong competitor Iran. “Even if there were no more pistachio plantings after 2005, the US would have overtaken Iran as the largest producer with all the new acres coming into production,” says Matoian. “In 2008 we surpassed Iran and this is without even the newest acres planted from 2000 and beyond reaching full production yet.”
In part, the milestone will be hit because it’s an alternate bearing year for the crop. At the same time, additional acreage continues to be added in the US for the nut. “In 2018 we had about 30,000 new acres planted and we had about the same amount in 2019, too which would be some of the larger amounts of pistachio plantings that have gone into the ground in the last 10 years,” says Matoian. It’s also consistent with nut crops in general given that plantings of walnuts, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts have also been increasing in the US.
Demand is there
The need however for the nut is there. “Growers would not plant a commodity for which there is little to no demand,” says Matoian. “Worldwide demand has caused growers to plant more acres. With pistachios, we continue to see demand from various parts of the world. Domestically and internationally, pistachios continue to be increasingly recognized as a good for you, healthy beneficial item to eat for its nutritional properties.”
Meanwhile, Matoian notes that Iran continues to have challenges with its crops. In 2018, the country suffered from significant crop failure due to widespread cold and freezing in the spring and the crop produced 50,000 metric tons compared to the US' 450,000 metric tons. Those challenges carried over to the 2019 crop. While Iran improved its tonnage to 195,000 metric tons in 2019, the US produced 375,000 metric tons.
Growing conditions are proving to be a challenge in Iran, aside from the cold, and that includes a lack of water to hydrate the crops or only having salty ocean-like water available. “While they have new acres coming into bearing in areas that do have water, the areas that lost the water or don’t have the good water, many more acres are coming out than are going into production there,” says Matoian. “From our view, they’re going to have a continued reduction in acreage but there’s a possibility that their new acres may produce more on a per acre basis. Time will tell.”
Meanwhile the US, particularly California, has challenges of its own. At press time, California has not had any rain for six weeks. “And snow pack about a month ago was 60 percent of normal and we’re now down to 25 percent of normal,” says Matoian. “It looks like we’re entering a drought so water availability will continue to be a challenge.” Additionally, when the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will be implemented, that could also potentially limit water that can be applied to sensitive areas. As Matoian notes, “Fifty percent or more of our costs are water.”
Also looking ahead, given the increasingly growing crop being produced by the US, the association is also looking to build markets for the commodity.