“Generally, in an on-year like
this one, it’s difficult for the nuts to mature evenly throughout a tree. But,
this year those differences were more extreme, especially in areas where we saw
whole nut dry down and early splits. We think this occurred because the trees
are still recovering from the impact of drought and overall crop load which was
breaking limbs.”By the time they brought in the last of their 2016 harvest in
mid-October, California pistachio growers, who produce 98 percent of the U.S.
crop, set a new record – a whopping 902 million pounds (in-shell), according to
the Administrative Committee for Pistachios.This amount would shatter the
previous record of 555 million pounds which American pistachio growers harvested
in 2012. While this year’s production was consistent throughout the
pistachio-growing region, it will not set a record in terms of yield per acre.
Production this year in the other
two pistachio-producing states - Arizona and New Mexico - totaled 6.5 million
pounds.This year’s California production feat reflects a combination of more
favorable weather than last year, a 2016 on-year crop, and about
quarter-million acres of trees now in commercial production, says Andy Anzaldo,
vice-president of grower relations at Wonderful Pistachios.Meanwhile, as the
crop size grew larger, Anzaldo says crop quality declined. He attributed this
in part to an unusually wide range in the timing of the crop ripening.“Generally,
in an on-year like this one, it’s difficult for the nuts to mature evenly
throughout a tree,” Anzaldo says. “But, this year those differences were more
extreme, especially in areas where we saw whole nut dry down and early splits.
We think this occurred because the trees are still recovering from the impact
of drought and overall crop load which was breaking limbs.”
However, the largest factor in
lowering 2016 crop quality was the abnormally high amount of shelling stock.
While the quality of the kernels is unaffected, the shells are not marketable.“The
shells were over-dry, dark, or crinkled,” Anzaldo explains.“Typically, shelling
stock levels are in the 3 percent to 4 percent range,” he says. “This year
shelling stock accounted for as high as 10 percent in some loads. This seemed
to be more pronounced in Kern County and other areas where drought (had)
impacted production the last few years.”The closed shell percentage was normal
in Kern County, he notes. Yet in Tulare, Madera, and Fresno counties, the
percentage ranged up to 25 percent. This is much higher than the 15 percent
average.“These quality issues are important from a marketing perspective,”
Anzaldo says. “While the crop is a record 900 million or so pounds, the
marketable split in-shell will be 10 percent to 20 percent less because of the
high levels of shelling stock and closed shells.”Anzaldo reports that pressure
on this year’s crop from disease, including botryosphaeria and late-season
alternaria, was low.The nut percentage rejected due to Navel orangeworm or
other insect infestation was lower than usual at the start of harvest due to
the use of pheromone puffers which disrupt mating, and the early harvest.
However, as harvest progressed into the late stages, the amount rose to higher
than average.“We suspect the early-hull split nuts were harboring a flight of
Navel orangeworm,” Anzaldo says. “When the flight came on in mid-September,
growers didn’t have any protection in place for the nuts. The industry will be
asking at the Navel orangeworm summit on Nov. 14 what could have been done
better to protect the crop at that late point in the season.”The meeting for
growers and pest control advisers titled ‘Using Navel Orangeworm Pheromone
Traps: Tips- Strategies and Future Applications’ will be held Nov. 14 from 8
a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of California Kearney Agricultural Research
and Extension Center in Parlier.
For Wonderful Pistachios growers,
harvest started Aug. 19 with some tree shaking in Kern County. Within 10 days,
harvest was underway for most California growers, Anzaldo notes.The company processes the crop at
two facilities in the Lost Hills area, and two plants in Coalinga and
Firebaugh. During the main harvest rush over a 27-day period, growers delivered
nuts at the average rate of 1,079 truckloads per day, he says. Processing
volume for a single day peaked at a company-record 1,144 truckloads.“Over the
last three years, we’ve invested $300 million in our plants to process the
growth in annual production as the number acres of bearing trees increases,”
Anzaldo says. “That paid off, because we were able to process this year’s crop
without any major interruptions.”Now, with the huge 2016 crop in, the industry
faces the formidable challenge of marketing the pistachios at home and abroad.
In fact, the stock of pistachios on hand at the end of the 2016 harvest is
twice as large as it was after last year’s harvest wrapped up.“Because of the
difference in size between production in 2016 and 2015, the industry will have
to double the volume of sales, compared to last year, to market the new crop
through the current marketing year, and carry over a reasonable amount of
pistachios to balance an expected off-year in 2017,” Anzaldo says.
Not surprisingly, the market
price of pistachios has fallen but not as much as expected. He says the opening
grower price for the 2016 crop is $1.80 per pound (in-shell) – or 70 cents less
than last year’s opening price.Lower prices should help move the new crop, he
notes, as should rebounding demand in China, the single largest international
market for California pistachios.In addition, Wonderful Pistachios has launched
a $55 million dollar advertising program to boost U.S. pistachio sales.
Featuring the Ernie the Elephant cartoon character with audio voice over by
television personality John Cena, the television campaign debuted in early
October during a Monday Night Football broadcast.“Combined with the lower
prices, this increased marketing effort is designed to double pistachio sales
this year and bring final prices back to above the $2 level,” says Anzaldo.