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  • Italy: Pistachio cultivation getting more popular as global demand grows

    Oct 24th, 2017

    "Pistachios represent a good alternative in agriculture: plants are very resistant, don't require a lot of maintenance and the product is in demand. Exceptional results can be achieved with suitable soil and the ideal temperature range," explains Salvo Grassia, owner of a nursery in Bronte (CT).Only Italy, Greece and Spain produce the so-called green gold within the EU. In Italy, it was introduced by the Arabs and Sicily is the only region producing considerable amounts. Thanks to the island's soil and weather conditions, pistachio cultivation represents a good alternative source of income and enables using abandoned soils or others impoverished by invasive crops.

    The ideal soil should be draining and loose. Plants thrive in mild springs followed by long warm summers. Considering the nature of the soil, almost all of southern Italy is suitable for this type of crop. In the past, pistachios used to be cultivated on land that lacked water whereas now, with innovative rootstocks, mechanised irrigated groves can be planted. In addition, fructification times have shortened."We are authorised by Regione Sicilia to multiply and commercialise pistachios. We have specialised in this segment and try to improve our knowledge of rootstocks and new varieties year after year."

    The company provides consultations for the planning and management of small, large and very large intensive crops and also uses an internal professional network providing after-sales assistance."Our nursery covers two hectares, 3000 sq m of which are greenhouses. We produce an average of 25 thousand plants per year, mostly for professional growers. A few years ago, we started working with Africa, but 60/70% of our plants is shipped to southern Italy. Sicily represents a third of our turnover."

    A pistachio grove needs at least one male plant every 8 female plants with a pattern of 6 x 6 metres. An hectare can house 280 trees. Pistachios are desert plants, so they require long dry summer and winters with minimum 700 chill hours. Some varieties need even less chill hours (with temperatures between 0 and 7°C) and some can even withstand -10°C.Adult trees can grow to 6 metres tall with an overall foliage diameter of 5 metres and can be planted all year round even if the ideal time is between late October and late March. A grafted plant costs around €20, but its price varies depending on the type of graft, quantity, size, graft time.

    Blossoming is in March/April and lasts one week, while harvesting is carried out between late August and 20th September.But which are the most suitable rootstocks? Grassia has various solutions depending on the type of soil and fructification, but the most commercially viable are three:

    Pistacia Terebinto (Scornabbeco)

    Rustic plant very resistant to drought. It grows slowly and prefers loose ground mixed with gravel and pebbles. It has a tap-root system and doesn't tolerate water stagnation. It fructifies 7/8 years after grafting. Used as a rootstock in Sicily, Syria, Turkey and other Eastern countries.

    Pistacia Atlantica

    Very rustic plant resistant to drought although irrigation does improve production. The type of soil must be similar to that for Terebinto. It fructifies 5 years after harvesting. Its root system has many capillaries and the growing habit is assurgent. Very popular in Greece.

    Pistacia Ucb1#

    Hybrid between a female pistacia Atlantica and a male pistacia Integerrima and the best rootstock known so far. It adapts well to saline soils and can fructify earlier and more abundantly. Withstands transplant phases easily and can be used for irrigated crops, leading to noticeable production advantages.What type of soil do pistachio trees require and how much time passes before entering full production? We asked Grassia for an answer to give our readers an idea."Pistachio plants are flexible and can be cultivated on different types of soil. However, they are most productive on sandy soils and loose soils mixed with gravel and pebbles with a pH between 6 and 8 in particular."

    "They do not tolerate water stagnation and aren't suitable for clayey soils. Fructification starts from year 4/5 with low quantities and increases gradually from year 6/7 peaking at 2.5/3 ton per hectare from year 8/10."In Bronte - the leading production, processing and commercialisation area in Italy - many companies collect the entire local production, therefore producers have a variety of destinations to choose from.