The pistachio trees at Wolfskill Experimental Orchard allow botanists to continue research into Kerman and other new, promising pistachio varieties.
In 1957, a small experimental orchard in Chico, California distributed to commercial nut-growers a promising new variety of pistachio tree from Iran, called Kerman.
The United States Department of Agriculture wanted to see how these Kerman trees might perform in the richly fertile Central Valley of California.
By 2013, the Kerman had created a billion-dollar agricultural industry, and what was once a delicacy was a long way toward becoming a common household snack. University of California pistachio specialist Louise Ferguson calls the California Kerman pistachio tree “the single most successful plant introduction of the 20th century.”
Named for the Iranian city where the seed was gathered in 1929, the Kerman pistachio proved the best for California growers, thanks in part to its naturally large kernels—the nuts—that split their shells 60 to 75 percent of the time, making the pistachio an easy snack food.
Today, starting from the first female Kerman tree in Chico, there are more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of pistachios growing in the Central Valley. At 270 to 360 trees per hectare, this translates into an estimated 31 million trees, which produce 98 percent of the total us pistachio crop. (The other two percent is grown in Arizona and New Mexico.) In 2010, with a harvest of 240 million kilograms (528 million lb), California surpassed Iran, which until then had remained the world’s top producer. This year, the value of the harvest for the first time exceeded $1 billion, surpassing the value of walnuts, and making pistachios the second most valuable nut crop in the US, after almonds. That means the average pistachio orchard is worth $75,000 per hectare ($30,000 per acre), and growers are so optimistic about the expanding market that they are planting 4800 to 6000 additional hectares (12,000 to 15,000 acres) of pistachios every year.
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