California grower Brian Blackwell believes the above-average rainfall and cool temperatures this spring provide a double-edged sword for the 2010 Western pistachio crop.

“We don’t know how many (shell) blanks we’ll have due to the lousy weather during bloom time,” Blackwell said. “We had plenty of winter chill hours but the problem was the unusual high rain and wind events. We don’t know yet if the crop was adversely affected by the weather.

Blackwell grows pistachios in Kern and Tulare counties in the southern San Joaquin Valley. He owns and operates his own pistachio farm, Blackwell Farms. Blackwell also wears the hat of president of the Blackwell Farming Company where he manages pistachio orchards for other landowners.

Blackwell is chairman of the Western Pistachio Association.

U.S. pistachios are grown in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. California growers produce about 98 percent of the total crop.

The Western Pistachio Association represents growers across the tri-state region. Executive director Richard Matoian, Fresno, Calif., is hearing a mixed bag of crop projections from members ranging from a good crop to a little light.

Matoian said, “As positive as the rain was this spring, growers like rain but not this time of the year (spring).”

Harvest delays

The rain and cool spells could delay harvest this fall. Matoian said the crop was running 7 to 10 days behind (in mid-June).

“Growers would rather have an early maturing crop than a late maturing crop,” Matoian said. “A later crop has more potential for insect damage. Fall rains can reduce crop quality.”

Pistachio acreage in the three-state pistachio belt is about 210,000 acres including about 125,000 bearing acres and about 85,000 non-bearing acres.

A big push in pistachio tree plantings from 2004-2008 included up to about 25,000 acres annually. Plantings have slowed to the 5,000 acre/year range. Matoian believes lower plantings are tied to uncertain water availability in some areas plus some market uncertainty.

Pistachio exports five years ago totaled about 35 percent of total shipments. Exports today, Matoian says, account for about 65 percent of total shipments.

It is too early to predict the exact size of the 2010 California pistachio crop, yet Blackwell predicts an average crop, perhaps in the 350 million-plus pound range.

Kern County received more rain this spring than the last five to six years, Blackwell says. About 7 inches fell in the Bakersfield area. The area has averaged 3.5 to 4 inches in the spring annually over the last five years.

“We received almost double the rain but it was the timing that created problems,” Blackwell said. “The rain started in April and fell about every 10 days. In some fields up north I have already applied three fungicide sprays (as of mid-June); that is virtually unheard of in our area. The rains pounded us through the bloom period.”