Consumers have gone nuts over pistachios

September 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Valley nut growers are trying to keep up with rapidly expanding global demand. Pistachios are being harvested right now and the world can't get enough of the little green nut.

It's enough to make you dizzy but these trees don't mind. The ground rumbles in this Madera orchard when the pistachio harvest gets going.

The nuts are shaken and collected into bins. Stems and leaves are sorted out. Pistachios which hit the ground don't reach the processing plant.

Ranch manager Chris Wylie said his orchard has produced a heavy crop this year. Wylie explained, "We just try a light shake and these ripe ones, you can see the ripe ones come right off. It doesn't take much of a shake and they pop right off."

Wylie said once pistachios turn a rosy pink and yellow pastel color they're ready for harvest. "You just touch them and they fall off so you know they're ripe and the splits they're real wide so that shows they're in good shape."

Richard Matoian is executive director of American Pistachio Growers. He projected a record pistachio crop this year - about 575 million pounds. Matoian said, "We see that pistachio shipments and consumption is up 23% over last year so that's an incredible trend."

Over 447 million pounds of pistachios have already been shipped. 60% went overseas.

A tree nut delegation from China recently passed through the valley to secure a steady supply of pistachios, almonds and walnuts.

China can't get enough of valley-grown pistachios. Matoian said, "We have seen 700% increase in shipments in just in the last five years."

New acreage will only add to the valley crop over the next few years. "We know that in our industry we'll hit a billion pounds somewhere between 2018 and 2020 but we say bring it on."

Matoian said a big crop often means lower prices but rising demand is keeping pistachio growers very happy.


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