Pistachio Situation and Outlook
The 1997/98 U.S. pistachio crop is forecast at a record 80,300 tons, almost 70 percent above the previous year's weather-reduced output. Due to an earlier than usual spring, this year's crop is ahead of normal. Mild temperatures have resulted in many sound nuts. Samples show low levels of sunburn and insect damage. The current crop forecast comes from an objective measurement survey conducted by the California Agricultural Statistics Service under the sponsorship of the California Pistachio Commission.
The United States is the world's second largest pistachio exporter, after Iran. In 1997/98, U.S. pistachio exports are forecast to surge 39 percent to a record 55,000 tons. Industry observers expect U.S. pistachio exports in 1997/98 to increase due to a short Iranian crop and the current ban by the EU on imports of Iranian pistachios. Major U.S. export markets in 1996/97 were Hong Kong with 34 percent, the European Union 27 percent, Canada 10 percent, and Japan and Singapore 4 percent each. Most retail consumers, foreign and domestic, prefer in-shell pistachios. Nevertheless, the U.S. industry is working to expand its presence in the food manufacturing market.
Iran leads the world in pistachio output. However, verifiable numbers about the size of Iranian production and exports are unavailable. According to the International Nut Council (INC), its original forecast of the 1997/98 Iranian pistachio harvest of 180,000 to 200,000 tons may be reduced by 50 to 70 percent due to a severe frost in April 1997. The INC estimates 1996/97 pistachio exports from Iran at 136,000 tons.
Iranian suppliers of pistachios face another challenge. In September 1997, the Commission of the European Union (EU) temporarily prohibited imports of pistachios from Iran. Discovery of aflatoxin in various shipments of Iranian pistachios prompted the EU ban on imports. Public health officials in the EU have intensified their sampling of imported pistachios and will review the situation monthly. This public health measure will remain effective until at least December 15, 1997.
The 1997/98 Greek pistachio crop is forecast up 15 percent from the previous year due to good weather and the biannual bearing of the trees. Usually, the pistachio harvest in Greece meets domestic demand with a small residual to export. Domestic consumption of pistachios in Greece is relatively constant. Confectionary products, ice cream, and snack foods are the primary uses of pistachios. The confectionary and ice cream industries use between 65 and 70 percent of all pistachios available for the domestic market. Retail prices of pistachios range from 1,680 drachmas ($6.32 U.S.) to 2,000 drachmas ($7.53 U.S.) per kilo.
Italy's 1997/98 pistachio production is expected to increase sharply due to the alternate bearing of pistachio trees.
The expected reduced Iranian pistachio crop is boosting pistachio prices in major European markets. Italian in-shell pistachios currently sell for 10,000 lire ($5.60 U.S.) per kilo, while shelled pistachios fetch 29,000 lire ($16.23 U.S.) per kilo. Prices for the new crop are expected to drop 30 percent to 7,000 lire ($3.92 U.S.) for in-shell pistachios and 17 percent to 24,000 lire ($13.43 U.S.) for shelled pistachios.
Pistachios are mainly consumed as roasted and salted snacks. Therefore, the food processing industry purchases only a small portion of the total.
Syria's production of pistachios in 1997/98 is expected to remain unchanged at 15,000 tons. An April 1997 frost may have slightly affected the nuts of trees which were in the early blooming stage. Some sources expect the farm gate price of pistachios to approximate 150 Syrian pounds ($3.00 U.S.) per kilo. This price may fall by 50 percent as the crop comes to full maturity.
Some Syrian farmers have switched from pistachios to olives, because olive trees yield fruit within 5 years, while pistachio trees yield fruit in 10 years. The Ministry of Agriculture encourages pistachio cultivation by selling seedlings at nominal prices. Consequently, most trees in Syria remain fairly young.
An exchange rate adjustment led to a significant drop in official imports, although smuggling of pistachios via Lebanon apparently continues.
Syrian exports of green, in-shell pistachios nearly tripled in 1996/97. Arab tourists accounted for most of these sales. Commercial exports go mainly to Lebanon and other Arab countries.
The 1997/98 pistachio harvest is expected to decrease 20 percent to 40,000 tons. A spring freeze and heavy rains damaged pistachio trees in some regions.
Turkey's pistachios are usually thinner and smaller than those from Iran. In recent years, some farmers have adopted the Siirt-type pistachio tree which bears larger nuts. Sources estimate that Siirt-type pistachios comprise about 15 percent of production.
Unlike with hazelnuts, the Ministry of Agriculture does not intervene in the Turkish pistachio market. However, many growers are lobbying the government for a support program similar to that for hazelnuts.
Syria is the best customer for Turkish pistachios accounting for 16 percent of total exports. The United States is second with 15 percent followed by Russia and Lebanon with 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
Iran supplies 95 percent of Turkish pistachio imports. The United States has a 3-percent share of the Turkish import market.
For further information on supply, distribution, and trade contact William Janis at 202-720-0897. For information on U.S. marketing opportunities, contact Ingrid Mohn at 202-720-5330.