"Why Are Pistachios So Expensive?"

July 15, 2015
Written by Elise

We get a lot of questions in our store, but one of the more common ones is this: "Why are pistachios so expensive?" As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons that pistachios are consistently more expensive than most other nuts no matter where you buy them, and there's a big reason their price grows at a faster rate than most other nuts.



To begin with, pistachio trees reach full-bearing about 15-20 years after being planted. The most a pistachio tree can produce in a year is about 50 pounds (for perspective, brazil nut trees produce up to 250 pounds of nuts a year), and they only produce that peak weight every other year. Pistachios are also sorted by hand, not machines. To limit things more, pistachio trees require cool winters and hot summers of long duration. This means that there are only three major commercial areas in the world where the trees can grow: Iran, Turkey, and California.

Here is where the question of the rate at which the nuts become more expensive comes in. Because we prefer to support industry inside the United States and because we believe their pistachios are of the highest quality, we purchase our pistachios out of California.

As of May 12th, 2015, over 66% of California is under extreme or exceptional drought conditions, the two highest drought categorizations the U.S. Drought Monitor uses. If you include the next ranking, severe drought, over 93% of the state is affected. These conditions are only expected to get worse as we get into the summer. In December, a study was published finding this the state's most severe drought in about 1,200 years. An estimated 12 million of the trees in California's state forests have died as a direct result of the drought. As the New York Times reports, April's snowpack in the Sierras was at a record low: 5% of normal--it was the state's driest winter on record.

Agriculture makes up about 80% of human water usage in the state. The industry experienced a loss of about $2 billion last year, as the water shortage forced them to allow over 400,000 acres of farmland to go fallow, to which an estimated 600,000 more acres may be added this year. Simply put, there's just not enough rain water or snow fall for the record high temperatures, and growing nuts uses a lot of water. As water levels in the state continue to fall, it becomes more expensive for farmers to pay to continue to water their crops. This expense is passed on into their products.

As the dry conditions persist in California, we will continue to do our best to provide our customers with the best products available. Prices will likely continue to grow, but we still believe the best pistachios come from California and that the quality is worth the price, so we will continue to buy them from growers in the state.

3 comments:

  1. Right now, Jan. 2016 California is experiencing too much rainfall. Will the prices ever come back down even a little? All nuts this year are exorbitant in price, not pistachios exclusively.

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    1. Here is a link to the U.S. Drought Monitor's current data (January 19, 2016) for California: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA It seems to be fairly similar for the data collected when we wrote this article.

      To your observation about the price of all nuts, part of the reason multiple nuts are expensive this year is because, for us and a lot of other businesses in the U.S., more than just our pistachios are bought from California. The most common are pistachios and almonds, but others are grown there as well.

      When it comes to whether the prices will come back down, you're very correct in that more favorable weather for the nuts would eventually bring their prices down. Both pistachios and almonds are harvested in about August-September, so any improvement in California's drought conditions would be reflected in the price for those nuts after August-September.

      Thanks for the great question. Do you have any follow-up questions, or anything else I can clarify for you?

      -Elise, Western Nut Company

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    2. The price of pistachios does seem to be a bit high but the pistachios I've been eating out California have been excellent and worth the money

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