But there are potentially negative aspects to the deal for pistachio growers in California, for they will be subject to competition from importation of Iranian pistachios, which could take bite out profits for California farmers. Iran is the number one grower of the nut and when their product is allowed in US markets, the price of pistachios could drop impacting growers’ profits.
The European pistachio market is worth $300 million to US growers. While the Iranian crop is not banned there, it is “constrained” by the adjunct sanctions on banking and shipping. This could all change if US sanctions are removed.
How much an open market for the Iranian product would affect price of California pistachios is unknown. But Bloomberg speculates the "biggest losers may be Californian farmers who have doubled pistachio acreage over the past ten years despite drought conditions."
Pistachio growers face reduced water supplies
Central Valley growers are at a crossroads and have two decades to comply to a California groundwater law to end unsustainable groundwater use. During that time, however, growers will keep pumping water instead of reining in usage—at least that is the prediction by some experts.
The regulations will take years to implement. Water agencies in the most over-pumped basins are not required to submit plans to the state until January 2020; the plans must be aimed at achieving sustainability by 2040.
Charles Burt, chairman of the Irrigation Training and Research Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo compares the annual groundwater overdraft in the Central Valley with crop water usage. If his calculations are correct, 1 million to 1.5 million acres will go out of production in the coming years. “There are just more straws in there than there is water,” he said in the Los Angeles Times.
Considering the extended drought water emergency being called the “new normal” in California, this writer believes it is irresponsible for lead pistachio growers to encourage farmers to plant more acreage when the orchards in existence are under stress from drought conditions that could impact tree productivity.
In response to the water crisis, the University of California’s annual Statewide Pistachio Day as far back as 2009 focused on assisting growers to maximize the limited water supply.
UC Davis Irrigation Specialist David Goldhamer shared strategies for budgeting irrigations for what he calls “maximum water use productivity,” reported by Western Farm Press.
If poorly timed, he said, water stress in pistachios will have significant yield impacts for many seasons to come. But if timed well, trees can recover from water stress quickly with little impact on yield for current and future crop years.
“Pistachio trees are very deep rooted and can survive in extremely dry conditions. But that drought tolerance says nothing about productivity,” Goldhamer said. “The question is, in a drought situation, where we know we are going to be managing a limited water supply and we know we are going to be stressing our trees, how can we stress them, or specifically, when can we stress them and how much, with minimal impact on current and future years’ production.”
Goldhammer’s warnings are even more salient in 2015 and are contrary to expanding pistachio acreage based on water resources in California.
When the Iranian sanction deal is approved, the administration and Congress need to protect American growers with appropriate tariffs to prevent Iranian products—in this case pistachios—from flooding American markets and protect pistachio farmers.
Meanwhile, US pistachio growers need to realize the water emergency is not going to magically disappear and could put orchards in jeopardy; therefore, they need to water manage the orchards in existence responsibly to preserve what they have—not plant more trees--or risk losing market share due to reduced productivity to Iranian product in the US and Europe.
is retired and lives in Clearlake, California. She has three grown
children and one grandson and a Bachelor’s degree in Health Services
Administration from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California. On the
home front Dava enjoys time with her family, reading, gardening, cooking
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