A Complete Guide to Pistachio Industry
Did you know that hearing the crack of a pistachio shell is considered good luck in some countries? Thanks to the pistachio industry these days we have full access to this healthy little snack! There is a big competition around the pistachio industry, mainly between Iranian vs. American pistachio producers.
There is a lot to say about this wonderful nut and its industry. I said wonderful because they have some of the fewest calories among the nut family, also they are rich in vitamins, unsaturated fats, antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and carotenoids.
Planting and growing pistachios is a long-term commitment that needs professional practice and experience. Each pistachio tree takes around 5 to 8 years to begin bearing the fruit, and it can take more than 15 years to obtain a full harvest. But, it’s worth it once you crack the shell up and see that beautiful light green.
Do you want to get more information about the pistachio industry? Keep reading this article to find out more about this amazing industry.
- The industry originally based on Kerman female, Peters male
- Kerman obtained in Persia by Whitehouse in 1929-30
- The very end of an induction program dating to 1890s
- Peters recognized in Fresno in 1934
- Kerman released in 1957 by USDA
- There weren’t pistachios in California before this
- Plantings of Kerman and Peters in late 1960s
- First industrial harvest in 1976 – 1.5 million pounds from 4500 acres
Pistachio Plant Varieties
There are many different types of pistachio plants, but only the “Pistacia vera” plant is grown commercially. This tree has long gray leaves and develops in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 to 11.
There are different types of vera pistachios in the U.S:
- Kerman: This is a new variety introduced to the U.S. from Iran. It provides a large, bright green and delicious fruits and bears in 6 years. It should be planted with the Petersvariety as a male pollinator.
- Platinum: is a vigorous grower that can handle cold weather. This cultivar is a clone generated after verticillium wilt almost dried out commercial pistachio products in the U.S.
- Pioneer Gold: is another clone that can resist wilt. It’s the most widely produced variety in the U.S.
- Joley: This type never achieved commercial success because it produces smaller nuts, but it’s a suitable option for home growers.
- Red Allepo: is popular in the middle east and Syria. It blooms early and produces crunchy, crisp fruits.
Popular Cultivars in Other Countries:
Iran: Akbari, Ahmad Aghaii, Fandoughi, and Kalehghouchi
Syria: Red Aleppo
Turkey: Uzun and Kirmizi Sicily: Napoletana, Siirt
An Iranian variety called Damghan and a selection similar to Damghan from the USDA Clonal Germplasm Repository in Davis were budded into a replicated, randomized trial with new collections from the U.C. breeding program, this year (2008) in the Buttonwillow area. This variety has large nuts but is purported to have low yields. Time will tell. Experience suggests that types that do well in one country, even if environmental conditions appear to be the same, may not do well in another country .
Pistachio varieties from some other countries are meant to have better taste than the ones grown in California (especially Kerman pistachio from Iran).
Pistachio taste can be influenced by:
- Genetic diversity in sugar, oils and other constituents of the nut
- By climate and cultural practices that affect nut size, for instance.
- What a person is used to. (The personal taste, LOL)
How to Grow Pistachios?
Pistachio trees are dioecious with male and female blossoms borne on separate trees. Flowers are small and petal-less and appear in panicles before the leaves in spring. Pistachios are wind-pollinated. After pollination, the hull and shell of the fertilized nuts enlarged to the full size and the kernel then develops to fill and split the shell. In early autumn the nuts are fully mature and can be shaken from the tree.
While pistachio trees will grow in most soils, nut production and tree size will be restricted when they are planted in shallow soils or heavy clay or light sand. A deep sandy topsoil having a neutral pH and a rooting depth greater than 60 cm are ideal for commercial nut production. Pistachios are more tolerant of slightly saline and alkaline conditions than other types of nut trees. Pistachios prefer deep, well-drained fertile soils. Australian soils are usually poorly structured and hold high salinity and low fertility. Soil properties, including clay content, depth, structure, and previous use potentially changes significantly within a small area. Establishing highly fertile, sustainable, and long-term pistachio plantings require specific site analysis followed by careful planning and preparation. Using the Australian Soils Analysis and data collected from the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS, 2011), the soil layer was added as a 5th layer to the pistachio bioclimatology model map.
Pistachios are desert-native nuts and can endure drought. They are, however, more fertile where water is available at specific times of the year. A review of experimental literature revealed that pistachios need dry summers with excessive summer rain deleterious to maturing nuts. Throughout the year, though, as much as 11 to 13 megaliters (ML) of water is needed per hectare of pistachio trees annually for an economically desirable product.
- Winter chilling. Fair winter chilling is essential, but this changes with variety. A figure of 1000 hours below 7°C is said to be expected to produce an even bud break and an excellent fruit set for Kerman and 600 hours below 7°C. For Sirora. Fewer hours of cooling usually results in uneven flowering and delayed leaf-out.
- Summer heat. Pistachios need a long hot summer to reach fruit maturity. A frost-free period over 200 days is regarded as necessary to ensure the fruit ripens and flowers develop. Alpine areas and regions too close to moderating coastal or too far north influences may, therefore, be inadequate.
- Wind. While pistachios will stand wind, strong wind when trees are young, makes tree training rigorous, and winds during heavy cropping and flowering can cause decreased yields and cracked branches. In most conditions, secure staking of young trees is imperative.
- Humidity. The incidence of bacterial and fungal diseases rises with an increase in moisture, especially in the growing season, and diseases are likely to over-winter and recur the following season. Hence, coastal areas and regions receiving >20 mm of rain per month during summer cannot be suitable for pistachio production.
- Water requirements. While pistachio trees endure periods of drought, for commercial nut production sufficient soil moisture is essential throughout the growing season. Ensuring adequate soil moisture also produces a proper growth of young trees, good nut and yield quality, and tree health. Currently, irrigation water usage varies from 9 Ml ha–1 in some regions down to as little as 2 Ml ha–1 in other farms.
The shake and catch harvesting method used to harvest pistachios is too expensive. Hence, growers will need to contract harvesters or acquire suitable harvesting devices. As pistachios depart rapidly after harvest, producers should have easy access to cold storage and suitable markets if the pistachios are intended for the fresh market, or simple access to the hulling and drying processor if the nuts are provided for dried snack consumption.
When the soil has been provided as required, the planting sites and tree lines are marked, and the irrigation system is installed. The tree lines should be utterly weed-free before settling.
Nursery trees are usually produced in pots. The pots are delicately removed to avoid root agitation, and the tree is located in the planting hole high enough to let the tree settle in the soft soil. The tree is flooded well, and the tip of the tree is docked back to just over half a meter high. The container is then secured between two palings to block wind damage.
The time has finally come to harvest your delicious pistachios. You will know that the pistachios are ripe because the shell cracks open and the kernel turns from green to a beautiful reddish. You should harvest ripe nuts as soon as possible because they are vulnerable to diseases and pests. Harvesting pistachios is easy! Just shake the trees, which will release the nuts from their branches, and make sure to put some trap under the pistachio tree to collect them.
Pistachios dedicated for the fresh market are cooled right after harvest. All branches, leaves and other detritus and reject nuts are extracted before they are assorted, hand-sorted and arranged into polystyrene fruit boxes. The nuts should be kept in a cool-room at all times.
Nuts destined for sale as dried pistachios are hulled ASAP. The hulling devices separate the hulls, and the nuts are then rinsed to remove any remaining peels. Floating nuts that are empty are removed, and the genuine nuts are levitated to the drier. Slow drying provides the best quality kernel, but this can be challenging when a massive quantity of nuts has to be dried at the same time.
As you can see in these charts, Iran is one of the largest net-exporters of pistachios in the world with an average annual quantity of 160,000 tons (dry basis) and an estimated total value of around USD 1.5 billion. This is even more than 60 percent of the world net-export figures. Most Iranian pistachio exports are in bulk: roasted pistachios, raw dried pistachios, pistachio kernels, and green peeled or granola pistachio kernels.
World pistachio production amounted to over 586,200 metric tons (in-shell basis), down from the previous year, partly due to some producing countries experiencing an “off year”. In spite of this, the overall production keeps growing: the last season, it was raised by 8% from the previous 10-year average.
The USA and Iran were the top producers during the 2017/2018 season, accounting for 47% and 38% of the world production, respectively.
Along with Turkey they added up to 94% of the world share.
The leading consumer markets for Iranian pistachios are the Far East, the European Union, CIS countries, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent in that order. Still, the market trend for Iranian pistachios is changing from wealthy countries towards a growing number of developing countries. Pistachios are exported according to the buyers’ obligations and standards, provided they match the minimum Iranian national criteria.
You can find out more about pistachios on our other blog posts on Pistachio Macarons, Coconut Pistachio Cookies, and Comprehensive Guide on Kal (Unripe, Early Picked, Boza) Pistachios.
 Nut Grower’s Guide: The Complete Handbook for Producers and Hobbyists