The push is on to move the remainder of the 2022 crop of California pistachios to make way for a larger 2023 crop which will begin harvesting in late August. Jeffrey Gibbons of Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella says that the incoming 2023 crop looks strong. “We’ve had plenty of winter chill, which you want with pistachios so that the trees have had a good dormant sleeping season,” he says. “We’ve also got a lot of winter rainwater, and the trees like getting water in the winter to build up soil moisture.”
With the rains earlier this year in the state, flooding put some orchards under water, though that was before bloom, and the water was taken off in time, leaving those orchards intact. “There are about 2,000 acres that are still underwater, and those trees will not have a crop,” he says. In addition, once the snow melts, that could bring on more flooding affecting another 10,000 acres. “That would still only affect about 12,000 out of 450,000 acres,” says Gibbons. “We’re getting more benefit from all the water than being hurt by it.”
Colder bloom welcome
The 2023 crop saw a good bloom this season, beginning in the first week of April. “It was good bloom timing, and the next part is bloom weather. It was cool and not too hot. Pistachio trees like colder, damper moisture because the pollen is flying from one tree to the next. If it gets too hot, the pollen comes off all at once, and it isn’t as effective,” he says.
Right now, the nutlets are in growth mode, and as clusters thin out, nuts are sizing up. “We’re finding out how large the sizing is this year, and the bigger the pistachios are, the better. With the cool weather, they’ll size better,” Gibbons says.
Given the size of the crop, Gibbons says growers will be encouraged to harvest early on its first of two harvests, which will also bring on better quality nuts. In the past, in California, 98 percent of the pistachios planted were the Kerman variety, a variety that generally harvests all within the same 14-day period. “Harvest would last longer though because there wasn’t enough equipment and processing, and it was about a 21-day harvest altogether,” he says.
New varieties coming on
Then in 2005, the industry planted a significant amount of new acreage of Golden Hills and Lost Hills trees, which are harvested a few weeks earlier. It means harvest can start on about August 20th and go until about October 10th. “They’re also a little larger nuts and they have fewer closed shells. It makes good clean open shells,” says Gibbons.
These new varieties factor into demand as well. While worldwide demand is strong for pistachios, domestic sales are down though that’s also tied to the economy. “The in-shell market is doing well, but the kernel market has seen a lot of growth in the last five years,” he says. “The crops are getting big enough now, and we have a lot more equipment in shelling and cleaning the kernels, making more pistachios available. The kernel market is growing faster than the in-shell market domestically.”
Looking ahead, 2023 will also bring some 26,000 new acres into production and Setton Pistachio plans to continue growing. On the flip side, good pistachio land is getting harder to come by. “Though this year, plantings are slowing down. With these big crops and the historical lack of water, there are fewer opportunities to plant pistachios,” says Gibbons.