Pistachio crop takes big hit with blanks

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pistacho crop (KFSN)

To meet growing global demand the pistachio industry has positioned itself to produce a billion pounds of nuts by the year 2020. But instead of a little green nut many growers are seeing "blanks" inside their shells this year.

From the outside, the pistachios in Tom Coleman's Madera County orchard looked healthy. The reddish clusters appeared ready for harvest but Coleman knew better. He started cutting samples in July.

Coleman explained, "The reality is we cut into them and we find that there is a little white fuzzy piece in there but no green. You can see it's a white, almost cottony looking substance in there."

They're called blanks because the shells formed without a nut inside. The Central Valley produces 99% of all pistachios grown in the US. But the fallout after this year's shake has shocked many growers.

American Pistachio Growers executive director Richard Matoian said, "This year in particular we have a lot more blanking going on. Some orchards appear to be normal but we have other orchards as high as 70%."

Coleman said a warm winter didn't allow trees to go dormant and an early bloom threw off the timing of pollination between male and female trees.

Coleman added, "It's exacerbated by this drought we've been going through because we don't have sufficient rain to get the fog to get the chill to keep the trees asleep during the winter."

Last year pistachio growers produced 520 million pounds of nuts. This year because of the blanking problems the industry could see a 42% drop-off.

Matoian said, "We expect the total crop for 2015 to be somewhere around 300 million pounds more or less."

Many of Coleman's trees were still full but he won't shake them again. "Everything I believe now is either a blank or it's not viable anymore because it's dried up."

Matoian believed the industry can still meet global demand though because of a carryover from last year's big crop.

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