Spain needs another 100,000 hectares of pistachios


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The Manchego pistachio stands out for having superior organoleptic qualities than American pistachios. The quality of our products will most likely continue since this is attributable to a substantially shorter vegetative cycle, which is linked to smaller trees and, therefore, more efficient photosynthesis. Global warming is damaging production in California and benefiting trees on the Iberian Peninsula. The salt content in water in Iran will lead to a decline in the medium term in Iranian production.

The US and Iran are the largest pistachio producers in the world. High demand for this nut around the world contrasts with supply. Focusing only on Europe, it’s estimated that more than 300,000 ha are needed to avoid imports, address pistachio production for the industry, and assume consumption will increase in the next decade. In this context, there is only one country on the continent (except for Turkey) with the capacity to produce this quality nut: Spain, specifically the southern half of the Peninsula, excluding approximately the first 100 kilometers of its coast.

The first person to bring the pistachio to the Madrid region was José Luis Ocaña, who is now 84 years old. In 2001, he decided to plant 2.5 hectares in Tielmes, a town in the southeast of the region. “I saw it [pistachio trees] in a magazine and decided to try it out. It was a gamble, because they didn’t exist back then. They called me the ‘the crazy pistachio guy’,” he says. A few years later, he doubled the number of hectares. Luis Ocaña recognizes that the pistachios are very profitable, but advises caution. “For many it’s the new ‘green gold,’ but it’s too early to celebrate,” he says. The pistachio, nevertheless, has become the fifth-biggest fruit crop in the region.

Pistachio trees are planted six meters apart. Every hectare fits 238 trees, of which 211 are females. The male trees must pollinate their flowers via the wind, so there must be one male tree for every eight to 12 females. Every hectare produces between 600 and 1,000 kilos of pistachios, double if the ground is irrigated. Producers receive between €4.5 and €5.5 for every kilo, and €10.5 if the variety is organic. But the final market price can reach as much as €30 a kilo. Madrid produces around 450 tons of pistachios, barely 5% of the national product. These pistachios are imported throughout Europe, where they are highly valued. Spain, however, consumes lower quality pistachios that come from the United States and Iran, which are the world leaders in the pistachio industry. Experts say there is enough business for at least two more decades.

“Spain needs another 100,000 hectares of pistachios. With the current growth rate, they’ll be planted in the next eight years,” says Díez. The crop adapts well to extreme climate, meaning that it can also grow in inland regions such as Extremadura, Castile y León and Castile-La Mancha, which has 80% of Spain’s pistachio plantations. The pistachio, however, has failed to flourish in the northeastern region of Catalonia. The tree was introduced in the 1970s, but did not adapt well to the high humidity. 

To ensure Madrid farmers are not faced with similar problems, the Imidra carries out risk assessments, tests organic fertilizers and new varieties of pistachio (up to seven), and selects and improves the quality of grafts. What’s more, they offer courses to all producers that are interested in growing pistachio trees. Luis Ocaña, who led the way for other farmers, says: “If I could travel back in time, I’d plant them again.” Now nobody calls him crazy.

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