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Record Pistachio Harvest in the U.S. Will Rise Up Exports and Stabilize Prices


Record Pistachio Harvest in the U.S. Will Rise Up Exports and Stabilize Prices

IndexBox has just published a new report: ‘U.S. – Pistachios – Market Analysis, Forecast, Size, Trends and Insights’. Here is a summary of the report’s key findings.

In 2021, production of pistachios in the U.S. will break previous years’ records thanks to large yields and an increase in the bearing average. This will enable an expansion of exports, primarily to the EU and China, and retaining stable prices on the domestic market. Heading into 2022, the U.S. will strengthen its position in the global market as its closest competitor, Iran, faces a lower yield that will cause it to deplete its pistachio reserves.

Key Trends and Insights

The U.S. expects a record harvest of pistachios in 2021. The USDA forecasts that production will grow from 352K to 454K tonnes of in-shell nuts, which is equivalent to 230K tonnes of shelled produce. According to the Administrative Committee for Pistachios (ACP), the average yield per acre in 2020 gained by 30% y-o-y, bearing acreage increased by 21.6K acres. A large harvest should keep prices stable on the domestic market.

Exports from the U.S. are expected to rise by 40% in 2021. The EU and China are expected to be the primary markets for American pistachios, despite the cloudy trade relations with the latter. With a global market share of 33%, China will remain the largest importer of pistachios.

The U.S. will continue to hold its position as the global leader in pistachio production with a slight lead over Iran, the second-largest producer. Unlike in the U.S., Iran forecasts a decline in yield in 2021, but the country will retain its level of exports due to supplies from last year’s reserves. As Iran depletes its reserves, the U.S. is expected to strengthen its position in the global export market in 2022 and seal its status as the leading global provider.

The increase in demand for pistachios will be mainly driven by the growth in the global population. During the pandemic, retail sales of pistachios have been declining amidst a fall in real income as people rejected expensive and non-essential food. This larger trend is the primary factor hindering growth in the market. As quarantine measures are being gradually lifted, the HoReCa segment will begin to recover, boosting demand in the B2B sector and expanding the pistachio market.

U.S. Pistachio Production

In 2020, production of pistachios in the U.S. was estimated at 352K tonnes, increasing by 4.9% in 2019. Over the period under review, production posted perceptible growth. Pistachio production peaked at 448K tonnes in 2018; however, from 2019 to 2020, production remained at a lower figure. Pistachio output in the U.S. indicated a temperate increase, largely conditioned by a pronounced expansion of the harvested area and a perceptible curtailment in yield figures. In value terms, pistachio production expanded notably to $2.9B in 2020.

U.S. Pistachio Exports

In 2020, overseas shipments of pistachios decreased by -22.7% to 178K tonnes for the first time since 2015, thus ending a four-year rising trend. In value terms, pistachio exports shrank dramatically to $1.5B in 2020. In general, exports, however, recorded a prominent increase over the last decade.

China (46K tonnes), Germany (25K tonnes) and Belgium (22K tonnes) were the main destinations of pistachio exports from the U.S., together comprising 52% of total exports. These countries were followed by Hong Kong SAR, Spain, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, France and Israel, which together accounted for a further 33%.

The average pistachio export price in the U.S. stood at $8,325 per tonne in 2020, with an increase of 3% against the previous year. Over the last eight-year period, it increased at an average annual rate of +2.6%. Average prices varied somewhat for the major overseas markets. In 2020, the countries with the highest prices were Spain ($9,350 per tonne) and Italy ($9,279 per tonne), while the average prices for exports to Viet Nam ($7,267 per tonne) and China ($7,615 per tonne) were amongst the lowest.

Source: IndexBox Platform


The Pandemic Undermines Robust Growth of the Global Pistachio Market

IndexBox has just published a new report: ‘World – Pistachios – Market Analysis, Forecast, Size, Trends and Insights’. Here is a summary of the report’s key findings.

The global pistachio market expanded slightly to $10.6B in 2019, growing by 4% against the previous year. This figure reflects the total revenues of producers and importers (excluding logistics costs, retail marketing costs, and retailers’ margins, which will be included in the final consumer price). In general, consumption showed resilient growth, driven by both the increases in prices and in the volume of consumption in physical terms.

Pistachios are a well-known product in the Middle East and in the U.S. where they are largely grown. Being imported, the product is also widely consumed worldwide. Thus, the countries with the highest volumes of pistachio consumption in 2019 were Iran (490K tonnes), Turkey (263K tonnes) and the U.S. (255K tonnes), with a combined 67% share of global consumption.

From 2013 to 2019, the biggest increases were in Iran, while pistachio consumption for the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

In value terms, the largest pistachio markets worldwide were Iran ($3.7B), the U.S. ($2B) and Turkey ($1.6B), with a combined 69% share (IndexBox estimates) of the global market.

The countries with the highest levels of pistachio per capita consumption in 2019 were Iran (5.90 kg per person), Turkey (3.18 kg per person) and Hong Kong SAR (3.12 kg per person).

Like other nuts, pistachios are consumed primarily as a snack. In addition, thanks to its distinctive taste, flavor and color, those nuts are widely used in pistachio-flavored products, in a bid to benefit on flavor. The changing consumer lifestyle, rapid urbanization and increasing disposable incomes promote the demand for on-the-go healthy convenience foods and snacks which includes pistachios. Moreover, the nuts also are recognized by vegan and highly health-conscious consumers.

Accordingly, population growth remains a fundamental market driver, combined with increases in disposable income, which in turn will contribute to enhanced consumer spending. Increasing preference for healthy food and rising health awareness is also supporting the pistachio market growth.

Until 2020, the global economy has been developing steadily for five years, which created a favorable environment for the pistachio market growth. In early 2020, however, the global economy entered a period of the crisis caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to battle the spread of the virus, most countries in the world implemented quarantine measures that put on halt production and transport activity, which undermined economic growth heavily throughout the world.

In the context of falling incomes, consumers primarily tend to exclude non-staple goods from purchases, which include pistachios. Thus, a sharp drop in household incomes is a powerful factor that will restrain the pistachios market in the medium term. In addition, the closure of the HoReCa sector limits the growth in the consumption of pistachios as ingredients for various foods and snacks.

In the countries of the Middle East, where pistachios are locally available and are staple food products, the impact of the crisis on domestic demand should be less significant. At the same time, the pistachios industry in large producing countries (the U.S., Iran, Turkey) is largely export-oriented, therefore, a decrease in demand in non-producing countries can hurt local producers.

Given the above-mentioned prerequisites, the global pistachio market is expected to contract somewhat in 2020 and then to begin a slow growth on the backdrop of a gradual recovery of the global economy from the pandemic. In the medium term, the market is expected to grow modestly, with an anticipated CAGR of +1.1% for the period from 2019 to 2030, which is projected to bring the market volume to 1.7M tonnes by the end of 2030.


In 2019, approx. 1.5M tonnes of pistachios were produced worldwide; growing by 8.1% compared with 2018. Over the period under review, the total production indicated a prominent expansion from 2013 to 2019: its volume increased at an average annual rate of +13.8% over the last six-year period. The generally positive trend in terms of pistachio output was largely conditioned by the strong growth of the harvested area and a buoyant expansion in yield figures.

The countries with the highest volumes of pistachio production in 2019 were Iran (571K tonnes), the U.S. (484K tonnes) and Turkey (267K tonnes), together accounting for 88% of global production.

Harvested Area and Yield

In 2019, the global harvested area of pistachios rose rapidly to 804K ha, increasing by 6.6% against 2018 figures. The harvested area increased at an average annual rate of +5.7% over the period from 2013 to 2019. In 2019, the global average pistachio yield amounted to 1.9 tonnes per ha, stabilizing at the previous year’s figure. Over the period under review, the yield indicated resilient growth from 2013 to 2019: its figure increased at an average annual rate of +7.7% over the last six-year period.


In 2019, approx. 439K tonnes of pistachios were imported worldwide; surging by 15% compared with the previous year’s figure. The total import volume increased at an average annual rate of +3.2% over the period from 2013 to 2019. In value terms, pistachio imports rose significantly to $3.4B (IndexBox estimates) in 2019.

Imports by Country

In 2019, China (113K tonnes), distantly followed by Hong Kong SAR (65K tonnes), Germany (45K tonnes) and India (23K tonnes) were the largest importers of pistachios, together constituting 56% of total imports. Italy (18K tonnes), Belgium (15K tonnes), Spain (15K tonnes), Russia (10K tonnes), Saudi Arabia (10K tonnes), Israel (9.8K tonnes), Luxembourg (8.5K tonnes) and France (8.3K tonnes) occupied a little share of total imports.

From 2013 to 2019, the most notable rate of growth in terms of purchases, amongst the main importing countries, was attained by China, while imports for the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

In value terms, the largest pistachio importing markets worldwide were China ($809M), Hong Kong SAR ($496M) and Germany ($436M), with a combined 51% share of global imports.

Import Prices by Country

In 2019, the average pistachio import price amounted to $7,794 per tonne, falling by -2.4% against the previous year. Global import price peaked at $8,208 per tonne in 2015; however, from 2016 to 2019, import prices stood at a somewhat lower figure.

There were significant differences in the average prices amongst the major importing countries. In 2019, the country with the highest price was Italy ($10,948 per tonne), while Israel ($4,799 per tonne) was amongst the lowest.

Source: IndexBox AI Platform



Disappearing Red Pistachios

If you’re an American over a certain age, you might recall the experience of staining your fingers while prying open red pistachios. They were a somewhat exotic treat, put out on occasion in a special bowl. That might seem strange to younger Americans who are only familiar with the natural tan pistachios that are ubiquitous as a post-workout food and snack.

The different associations are the result of a dramatic shift in where pistachios were produced and shipped after 1979 when the United States imposed sanctions against Iran in response to the Iran Hostage Crisis involving the taking of more than 50 American diplomats.

Mr. Whitehouse Leaves Washington

Pistachios are a biblical fruit, renowned as a court favorite of the Persian Queen of Sheba, a frequent traveler on the Silk Road and Mediterranean maritime routes. Iran has cultivated them for thousands of years, though large scale commercial production in Iran began just over one hundred years ago. American production is a much more recent phenomenon.

In 1929, American botanist William Whitehouse explored Persia on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scooping up pistachio samples from farms located in modern day Iran. He returned in 1930 and planted test plots. When the trees matured a decade later, only one proved fruitful – Whitehouse named it Kerman after a city in Iran’s Rafsanjan central plateau. Pistachio trees can live hundreds of years and take their time to reach peak production – around twenty years.

Ironically, the U.S. pistachio industry – born from a single Iranian seed – matured in the 1970s precisely at the moment Iran’s trade with the United States, including of pistachios in dyed-red shells, came to a crashing halt.

The tale of U.S.-Iran pistachio trade has four plotlines that dramatize the broader quirks of global agricultural trade.

Plotline 1:

Extreme Quantitative Restrictions – A Trade Embargo

For most of history, Iran has been the world’s biggest source of pistachios. They are Iran’s most significant agricultural export by volume and value. Iran was the biggest supplier to the United States, but damaged relations following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 changed that. U.S. sanctions imposed since that time have a complex and layered history but have almost always involved a complete embargo on Iranian exports to the United States.

Following the lifting of the initial embargo in 1981, Iran’s food exports to the United States rebounded somewhat before the embargo was reintroduced in 1987. In an easing of sanctions in 2000, very modest amounts of foods from Iran were imported through Treasury Department-issued licenses. By 2010, imports of foods from Iran were again fully prohibited. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal would have enabled Iran to export pistachios and other agricultural products and lifted restrictions on financing, which Iran hoped would inject much needed capital investment in the agricultural sector. U.S. withdrawal of the Nuclear Deal in May 2018 saw a return to strict U.S. sanctions on imports from Iran.

Milestones in US-Iran competition in global pistachio trade

Plot Line 2:

Classic Farm Subsidies

When sanctions were first imposed in 1979, U.S. pistachio production was 7,700 metric tons, up quite substantially from the first U.S. commercial crop in 1976 of just 680 metric tons. In comparison, Iran had averaged 19,504 metric tons per year in the decade leading up to sanctions, but peaked in 1978 at nearly 59,874 metric tons. At the time, Iran accounted for nearly 100 percent of U.S. imported pistachio nuts. After falling off during the embargo, Iran renewed exports when the embargo was lifted in the early 1980s.

In March 1986, the Commerce Department found in favor of a U.S. industry petition that complained the Iranian government was subsidizing pistachio production. Iran (as many developing countries do) was providing supports to its agricultural producers by subsidizing the cost of key inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals, seeds, water and energy and by guaranteeing a minimum price for their output. The investigation resulted in a 99.5 percent countervailing duty on in-shell pistachios and a 318 percent duty on roasted pistachios.

Because Iran was not a signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and is not a WTO member (the United States has repeatedly blocked its application for accession), no injury determination was required.

US tariffs on pistachios

Plot Line 3:

“Less Than Fair Value”

In a parallel 1986 investigation, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) found that the volume of raw in-shell pistachios imported from Iran had increased significantly after the embargo was lifted in 1981. U.S. producers had secured 93.2 percent of the U.S. market in 1980, which was about 12.5 million pounds. By 1985, the overall size of the U.S. market had swelled to 61 million pounds, and Iran’s share had grown to 42.3 percent, accounting for almost 100 percent of all imports.

At the same time, the unit value of imports from Iran (import price) fell by around half. The USITC determined that raw in-shell pistachios imported from Iran were being sold at “less than fair market value” (or, being “dumped”) in the U.S. market, causing material injury to the U.S. industry. The Commerce Department calculated an offset in the form of a 241 percent antidumping duty, which would be applied in additional to the 99.5 percent countervailing duty.

In years of embargo, the duties were irrelevant and thus only two reviews have since been conducted to determine whether the duties should remain in place. In both 2005 and more recently in 2017, the USITC determined they should.

Plot Line 4:

Developed v. Developing Country Producers

According to the Iran Pistachio Association (IPA), Iran has around 150,000 farmers, but more than 70 percent of the production is small-scale on orchards of 2 hectares or less. In a “good” year, annual pistachio production capacity reaches 280,000 metric tons in Iran, but harvesting is inefficient. Pistachios are picked by hand from fallen clusters, their hulls removed by hand, and the nuts graded manually. Inadequate water management undercuts Iranian production, but when Iran’s yield is strong, the country’s pistachio exporters hold a price and geographic advantage. And IPA says they are competitive globally based on strong demand for the wide variety of Iranian pistachio cultivars with different flavor profiles and a higher kernel to in-shell ratio.

In contrast, the United States has some 950 growers, mainly in California, whose mechanized production is highly efficient, yielding a whopping 487,500 metric tons over the 2018-19 season (though output is cyclical and weather-dependent so yields may be down over 30 percent this year). Achievements in increased outputs made during a period when the U.S. market was closed to Iran, its only major competitor, enabled the U.S. industry to reach a position where it could both serve the domestic market and challenge Iran for market share all over the world. Iran has barely exported any pistachios to the United States since 1986 but it remains a contender in key third markets.

US leads pistachio production

Combined, the United States and Iran account for more than 70 percent of global exports of pistachios. Iran tends to hold the top spot in the Middle East, India, and Eastern Europe and holds an edge in developing country markets. The key battlegrounds in the U.S.-Iran pistachio wars are Western Europe and China where demand is strong and growing.

American pistachio growers fretted when the Trump administration raised tariffs on products from China. When China retaliated, raising the tariff on U.S. pistachios from five to as high as 55 percent, that created an opportunity for China to substitute Iranian pistachios. However, Iran ultimately suffered a bad crop year and it’s not clear whether China collected the tariffs, so sales of U.S. pistachios in China actually increased.

Not a Happy or Tragic Ending

The U.S. pistachio industry was concerned about the potential for renewed competition from Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal that eased sanctions. Their fears were allayed when the USITC voted to maintain the 1986 legacy of prohibitive tariffs. No matter, the Trump administration has strengthened sanctions and the embargo remains.

In the end, global demand for pistachios is higher than production, leaving room for both American and Iranian producers to find a market for all they can grow.

In an NPR interview four years ago, Brian Blackwell, a grower from Tulare County, CA wasn’t concerned about the reentry of Iranian pistachios in the U.S. market and explained the nature of global commodity markets this way: “This is a global marketplace nowadays. So, if Iran brought a million pounds of pistachios into the United States, that just means there’s a million pounds that didn’t get sold in China or Europe. U.S. pistachios could fill that market.”


Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.