As much as you are trying to eat healthy by snacking on nuts instead of a slice of pizza, pistachio prices may hinder you from reaching your ideal weight. The nuts have a myriad of benefits for your overall health ranging from better eyesight to lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Their demand is therefore increasing, and more land is now dedicated to growing the pistachio trees. The projection of California’s production is 1.4 billion pounds by 2026, but there is still no reprieve for our pockets. We, therefore, have to ask ourselves: why are pistachios so expensive despite the increased production? Well, these reasons could be the answer.
If you have not taken any agriculture lesson then perennial and biennial are strange terms to you. Perennial crops are those that once planted, save you the energy of replanting every other year because they grow back on their own, for instance, rosemary. However, biennial crops are those that will alternate in production; one year they give you a bumper harvest and the next, you barely have any. Pistachios are, unfortunately, biennial crops; hence, their supply keeps alternating. The reason is that during the heavy crop, the trees deplete their nutrition. Therefore in the next year, they store it up for use in the subsequent year thus inhibiting production.
While that would mean we buy them at a lower price in the bumper harvest season and expect exorbitant prices in the next, sadly, that is not the case. Unscrupulous businesspeople use the pistachios’ biennial production as a means of milking cash from the ready market. According to Reference, although farmers do their part in supplying the nuts, the middlemen will hoard a significant amount during the heavy crop season.
Consequently, the supply of the nuts, even during the heavy crop season is significantly reduced. As the law of demand and supply, dictates, the prices shoot up. Besides, for them to create an artificial shortage in the market, the distributors require large warehouses. Poor storage could result in damaged nuts, and that would mean an even shorter supply during the offseason hence higher prices.
Long maturity period
If you are thinking of venturing into pistachio farming because the high prices are every supplier’s dream, then you are in for a very rude shock. Pistachio farming is not a get-rich-quick investment because once you plant the trees, you will only begin enjoying the returns nearly a decade later. After five years, you will see your first pistachio fruit, but you will have to wait for a couple of years more before selling. According to Wikipedia, it will take a pistachio tree at least seven to ten years for it to give you a significant harvest. The trees take a further ten years to reach their peak production. Therefore, even if everyone planted trees today, it is not until 2029 that we would experience a little relief in the prices of pistachios. We would further have to wait until 2039 for the cost to be very pocket-friendly. Unfortunately, even the entire world cannot produce pistachios which brings us to the next reason why pistachios are so expensive: scarce pistachio trees.
Scarce pistachio trees
The production of pistachios is limited to some regions of the world. In 2017/2018, for instance, Iran and the US contributed to 75% of the total world production while other countries like Turkey, Syria, Italy, China, Greece and Afghanistan contributed to the rest. According to Heart of the Desert, the climate is the most significant factor in determining where to plant pistachio trees. Pistachio trees cannot thrive in high humidity areas. Therefore they prefer long, dry and hot summers while in the winter, the temperatures should be chilling but not freezing. They need at least 200 days of a frost-free period to avoid damaging the inflorescences. The heat required during dormancy should amount to at least 1000 hours, either at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, translating to at least three months. As a result of these strict climatic conditions requirement, in the US, pistachio trees can only grow well in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The soil required to produce them also facilitates the scarcity of pistachio trees. They do well in well-drained soil such as sandy-loam soils which is mostly found in arid areas.
Harvesting of pistachios takes place in three stages because the fruits mature at different times. Consequently, in the first stage, 60% of the nuts will be harvested because they will have ripened while the rest are picked within two weeks. Harvesting is quite-labor intensive if done by hand because then you will be shaking the trees for a while. Besides, one has to be careful because if a nut hits the ground, then it is a loss since it will be stained, leading to poor quality. Therefore nets are stretched beneath the canopies so that the nuts fall on them.
After harvesting, the nuts must be sorted by hand. Although there are machines to make the job easier, they might have missed a few so manual sorting is thorough but time-consuming. Sorting removes those with blemishes while also helping to grade the according to size before they are roasted, salted then packaged.
The low number of pistachios per tree
At five years old, one pistachio tree will be producing only 1 kilogram of dry nuts and between 2.5 to 5 kgs of fresh nuts. At 7 to 10 years, the amount will gradually increase to at least 6kgs of dry nuts and 15 kgs of freshly harvested fruits. It is only at 15 years that a tree will give you a better production of 15 kgs dry nuts and around 37 kgs of fresh fruits, according to Wikifarmer.
As much as nuts require hot weather, they need a lot of water to grow according to Western Nut Company. California, the primary producer of pistachios in the US, has been experiencing water shortage due to extreme drought. As farmers in the San Joaquin Valley try to salvage their crops, they have to buy water for the growing trees. Since it does not come cheap, the cost is transferred to the buyer through a high selling price.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson