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Iran ousts US to regain pistachio position

Pistachios are seen at a nut store in western Tehran.

Iran reclaims its place as the biggest producer of pistachio nuts from the US which is facing one of its worst harvests, an official says.

Overall yield of the snacking nut and food ingredient for 2015 grew by 20,000 metric tons to 220,000 metric tons, head of the Iranian Dried Fruits Exporters Union Mohammad Hassan Shamsfard said, citing official figures.

The private sector is reporting the total crop at 230,000 metric tons, 30,000 metric tons more than the volume in 2014, he added.

Shamsfard said US authorities have announced a steeply low harvest of 180,000 metric tons for this year. They have cited a combination of factors including drought, a shortage of chilling hours as well as declining water quality as the culprit.

Earlier this month, Executive Director of American Pistachio Growers Richard Matoian estimated this year's harvest to hit 300 million pounds (136,000 metric tons) or less — down from 520 million pounds in 2014.

California, which is home to 99% of US pistachio orchards, faces its worst drought in decades. Authorities, however, say a warming climate is affecting yields worse than the dry spell.

Pistachios need a chilling winter for blooming but an abnormally warm weather in California has led to blanking where millions of trees are bearing hollow nuts. According to Matoian, as much as 50% of the harvested nuts could be hollow this year.

The decade-old pistachio industry in the United States has grown rapidly to a $1.5-billion business, with the Kerman variety being the dominant cultivar.

American growers have been basking on the global popularity which pistachio nuts are finding, turning to Iran’s fierce export rival in Asia and Europe.

According to Shamsfard, Iran exports 150,000-160,000 metric tons of its annual crop. Last year’s sales of the staple stood at $1.5 billion.

Iran’s place as the biggest exporter of the nibble has also come under threat from the US in recent years amid a lingering drought. 

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