Salty, crunchy, and great for snacking, the pistachio nut has undergone a rapid increase in popularity in recent years, developing a profitable niche market in many regions. As well as occasional use in main dishes, much like walnuts or peanuts, pistachios have also found use in ice-creams, cakes, and even beverages. Furthermore, some of the health benefits of pistachio have led to it becoming an ingredient in cosmetics and even some complementary medicines.
Demand for pistachio is at an all-time high, and suppliers in the primary regions of production, Iran and the USA, are having a hard time keeping pace. Both of these locations have recently been experiencing production problems, including water supply issues and the spread of pistachio tree diseases such as Bushy Top Syndrome.
For example, in California, where the majority of US pistachio exports originate, persistent droughts have inflicted serious damage on numerous crops, including pistachio. Coupled with the lethal Bushy Top Syndrome, which has eliminated as much as 20% of crops in some areas, US pistachio planters find themselves in a very precarious position.
The same is true of growers in Iran, where water scarcity in traditional growing regions has limited exports. In the spring of 2018, during crucial bud-breaking phase, freak weather events inflicted huge damage to harvests. Not exactly on favorable terms with the United States, Iran suffers from far-reaching trade sanctions that, while not directly affecting foods, increase trading costs and put traders on unequal footing.
With US sanctions hampering trade, Iran may turn to Asia as an alternative target for pistachio exports. President Trump’s tough stance on China may have positive implications for Iranian pistachio growers, as half of the US’s pistachio exports go to China. As the US and China continue to butt heads over trade policy, it is likely that Iranian pistachios will gain increased access to Chinese markets.
These factors have led to the exploration of new regions as possible sources of supply. One in particular stands out for its arid soils and warm climate, factors which are highly favorable to pistachio growing: Spain. Already an agricultural powerhouse within the EU, Spain is poised to take advantage of increased demand and easy access to markets.
Despite long wait times for pistachio orchards to become profitable, Spain has shown an increased interest in pistachio production. Regions such as Extremadura, Andalusia, and the famous Castilla-La Mancha saw increases of up to 30% in the last twelve months alone, bringing total production in Spain up to 7,000 tonnes. This amount matches the total quantity of pistachio produced by all other European countries combined.
Like many formerly exotic agricultural products like mango and pineapple, pistachio has become more a common sight on supermarket shelves. Demand is strong in wealthy areas like the US and the EU, and emerging markets in China and Southeast Asia are developing strong appetites for the delicious tree nut. With demand showing no signs of slowing, new regions of production, like Spain, stand a strong chance of making significant inroads into international markets.