Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) farm advisor, Kings County, says the overall southern San Joaquin Valley pistachio crop load varies tremendously by orchard.

“Mature orchards which bore heavily in 2009 are understandably light in 2010,” Beede said. “Young orchards unexpectedly low in crop load last year have an abundant crop this year in most cases.”

Pest control advisers and growers are reporting misshaped shells in young trees, Beede says, possibly caused by a temporary deficiency of calcium during the cool weather and its impact on the translocation of macronutrients.

Beede suggests the 2010 California pistachio crop could fall in the 350 to 375 million-pound range. The 350 million-pound yield is considered average but the number is a moving target due to increased pistachio plantings.

“The new average could easily become 375 million pounds once all the young trees begin to bear,” Beede said. “We anticipate young trees will make a significant contribution to the 2010 pistachio crop, even with the relatively light crop in many mature orchards due to alternate bearing.”

About 95 percent of all pistachios are the Kerman variety.

Late frost scare

Arizona pistachio grower Jim Graham is breathing easier following several late frost scares in early May. Early morning temperatures on the orchard exterior plunged to 26 degrees. The critical cold temperature for pistachios is 29 degrees on Graham’s farm located at 4,300 feet above sea level. Wind machines prevented crop loss.

Graham and wife Ruth own and operate Cochise Groves, LLC, a 160-acre pistachio ranch in Cochise located in the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County.

Pistachios are an alternate-bearing crop and 2010 will be an off-year for most Western pistachio growers, yet Graham’s trees are in the on-year cycle this year. Weather events can switch the internal production clock in trees, even on an orchard-by-orchard basis.

“I’m pretty happy with how my crop looks right now,” Graham said. “It is a good crop but not my largest crop ever. I would be delighted to get a 4,000-pound-per-acre yield.”

Graham is excited by potential grower crop prices this year. Worldwide pistachio stocks are down while demand is strong.

“I’d like to see the price for premium split inshell No. 1 grade pistachios approach the $2 a pound range,” Graham said.

Craig Kallsen, UCCE farm advisor, Kern County, says the number of heat units this summer will ultimately determine whether the pistachio harvest will be on time or late this fall.