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Global demand for pistachios reaches record high

POSTED February 26, 2013 5:30 p.m.

Pistachio production is expected to reach record breaking numbers in the state as California growers seek to appease demands set for American pistachios in China and Europe.

As though mirroring the recent boom in the walnut industry, pistachios are becoming increasingly popular, causing nurseries throughout the state to withhold orders and produce an approximate year to two year waiting list.

Bob Klein, director of the administrative committee on pistachios, believes that the phenomenon will continue to grow based on a consistent demand over the last few years.

In a January report, the Administrative Committee for Pistachios Inventory Shipment recorded that approximately 198,269,275 pounds of pistachios were exported in 2012 compared to 2011’s shipment of  165,723,653 pounds.

“The industry is going to continue to grow. We will expect 20,000 acres of pistachios to be planted this year. Right now, trying to find land and trees to buy is one of the biggest problems for potential producers,” said Klein.

“We are exporting as much now as we ever have. The improvement in the overseas economy, particularly in China, India and Brazil, are offering a vigorous export market,” Klein said. “We have seen an increase in domestic consumption, and while that is true for all nuts, pistachios are up more than any other.”

Ninety-five percent to 98 percent of pistachio crops are located in the southern San Joaquin region, with Kern County as the largest supplier. The total acreage will be 200,000 baring acres this year and 270,000 acres in the future, said Klein.

Louise Ferguson, CE Pomologist for the Department of Plant Sciences at University of California, Davis, however also noted that the United States has fierce competition that may place California’s production records at rest.

One of the top producers in the pistachio industry is Iran. Pistachios are the second highest export after oil in Iran, and are widely consumed providing hundreds of thousands of people with careers in the industry and averaging $1.5 billion a year in sales.

Despite these statistics, Ferguson and Klein are skeptical of Iran’s success, whose analysis and number count has never changed within a three to four year span.

“Iranian production numbers are always a gamble,” Klein said. “What Iran produces is a mystery and we know they did not have a good year this year. We know they will produce more than 2012, but how much more?”

“Iran is one of the largest producers, but they have decreasing water supplies. Truthfully, we always have a hard time getting numbers from Iran,” said Ferguson.

Recent marketing campaigns have Ferguson believing the domestic pistachio industry will be booming. Wonderful Pistachio’s “Get Crackin” campaign with PSY’s “Gangnam Style” song and dance number during the Super Bowl reached over 100 million people and 1.25 billion Youtube hits.

Klein and Ferguson are not quick to jump the gun on early crop estimates, however.

“Pistachios are always hard to estimate. At this point, we are pretty early on in the year. Our previous record was 521 million pounds,” said Klein. “For three years we’ve been over 400 million pounds. Reaching in the high 400 million is not a disappointment. But the demand is so high; we could always use another 150 million pounds of pistachios.”

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