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Nut sales must double to offload record 2016 pistachio crop

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2016-11-04  Views: 37
Core Tip: California pistachio growers wound up their 2016 harvest in mid-October. They produce 98 percent of the U.S. crop and have set a new record – a whopping 902 million pounds (in-shell), according to the Administrative Committee for Pistachios.
California pistachio growers wound up their 2016 harvest in mid-October. They produce 98 percent of the U.S. crop and have 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 a 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.

“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.”

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 of 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.
 
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