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This File may be frequently Under Construction
/a directory Last update: 24 September 2007.
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Rich Fields Farm is a small farm about 6 km (4 miles) outside of Davis California. From Sacramento, we are about 35 km. The farm has both research and educational as well as commercial purposes. As part of the educational and outreach purposes, we have prepared this web site. We hope to improve the quality and quantity of the information presented here and on the companion web site as time permits. The general farm homepage includes information about other farm activities. On this site our focus is just the production of pistachios.
Since this is a ".edu" site, we cannot directly offer nuts for sale. However, we thought it would be interesting to our readers to include information about the marketing of pistachios in general and our nuts in particular.
You can find a few harvest pictures below.
I have prepared a page with a few hints on home processing of raw picked pistachios.
The California Pistachio Commission was terminated by a referendum vote of the State's growers in 2007. The website is no longer active, though it has a few links
If you would like general information about pistachio uses,
nutrition facts, and
elements of the pistachio industry in California, you may want to
look at the web sites maintained by the
California Pistachio Commission
Specific pages of interest include:
The Univ. of California has guides for sale at this URL. These discuss how to grow and manage a pistachio orchard.
Other sources of information
Yearly wholesale prices paid to us when we sell our nuts to the processor: in $/lb (processing not charged)
In 1999: ratio of (dry wt)/(wet: harvest wt) = 39%. 1999 had an unusually large percentage of split nuts; nuts which are >3x more valuable than the non-splits. Must be due to my great management practices! However, I did less than any prior year! Go figure...
While 1997 was a very good year, 1998 was very poor. In a "nutshell" here are the 4 main effects that drastically changed production for year 1998:
In 1997: 62.4% split, 27% non split, the rest are blanks, etc.
Interestingly, the industry as a whole (despite different dates of orchard establishment) also has an alternate bearing cycle. Unfortunately, the industry-wide heavy years correspond with our heavy years, thus depressing our profit on the heavy years. This fact is consistent with the theory that climatic factors tend to "somehow" cause the cycle to synchronize.
The "wet weight" referred to above is the weight of the nuts at harvest and prior to any processing. The processing steps are:
The hull is about 37% of the wet weight. The drying removes another 38% of the weight. That means that dried nuts are only about 14% of the wet weight. If you remove splits and blanks, that means that only about 7-9% of the wet weight is the actual split nuts!
If you are curious, here are some costs in growing pistachios:
1997 was a record year for the pistachio industry: 170,000,000 lbs (wet weight) were produced in the US. Later years have likely produced even more. California has about 32,000 hectares. About 65% of the nuts are sold in the U.S. Turkey supplies nuts to the US markets, apparently mostly in the eastern US. Iranian nuts are a small fraction thanks to a 395% tarrif. (I guess that is our 'subsidy') Noone is paid to not grow pistachios.
About 99% of the US pistachios are from just one variety: "Kerman". (By variety, this would be the same as if the only apple grown was the winesap.) This is quite a dangerous situation since a pest could target that particular variety. Only 3 rootstocks are used commercially. There are 11 species of pistachio, but only 1 makes edible fruit (nut). The tree is native to Iran, and areas of the former Soviet Union to the east of the Caspian sea. Interestingly, this same area is home to other major fruit crops, like almonds, peaches, and plums. Given the climate, it is no wonder that the pistachio is phreatophyte (deep rooted & drought tolerant). Roots can go to 9 m depth.
I have prepared a homepage for information related to my farm. The file includes a partial (!) plant list, some personal observations, and some pictures.
Small farms are the only growing segment of agriculture. These operations can be profitable by essentially one means: direct marketing. The options include: farmer's markets, roadside stands, mailorder sales, restaurant sales, subscription sales and u-pick operations. The last 3 choices are not suitable for a large-volume single crop (like a pistachio orchard).
In our operation, most sales are through farmer's markets. Because the local market is "saturated" with other growers, we have attempted to expand our market into areas where fresh, high quality nuts are hard to find. We have also pioneered special packaging (vacuum sealing). W usespecial storage (near freezing walk-in cooler). And, we accept payment after reciept of the nuts, all in order to gain a marketing edge. Below I discuss how our mail order business is set up.
We have also offered pistachios to a select group of loyal customers by mail order. We relied upon "word of mouth" and upon personal contacts through aquaintances to build up a client base. This was inefficient, but we did have lots of direct contact with our customers. This approach works far better when done in person, I quickly built up a reasonable client base when I lived in Colorado, for example. But once I left Colorado, the customer base dwindled.
In the past, we faxed a copy of an order form to
each individual. In recent years we use email to contact potential customers.
We are small so we can sell out to a fairly small group of regular
customers who heard of us by word of mouth. We use a private email account
for this purpose:
eashgrotjahn 'AT' netscape 'DOT' net
Please note: It would be inappropriate to use (or appear to be using) my University email account for private business purposes. Having said that, these web pages are here to provide information to the general public and outreach to other growers. In the same vein, I often receive email enquiries about whether pistachios could grow in some other specific place, where one could obtain trees, etc. I believe such general information questions are appropriate. While I cannot recommend any specific vendor, I try to share what information and experiences I have. I believe that such outreach is appropriate and I hope I am providing a beneficial service.
Shipping has become a problem. Customers would like to know up front what the total cost would be, but with some shipping options we cannot know that cost until contacting the shipper. Our current solution is to take advantage of flat rate shipping rates provided by a vendor using a box of known size. We then give the customer a few specific options, such as $X for Y lbs of nuts.
For example, the US Postal Service has two sizes of boxes for which USPS charges a fixed rate for shipping anywhere in the US. We can fit 9 lbs in one box and 10 lbs in the other. Lately we have been quoting two prices for these two specific options.
In years past, we lost some orders even when we had a minimum purchase of 4 lbs (so as to lessen the impact of the steep shipping charges). In response, we encouraged our customers to pool their orders so as to save on shipping.
When we use a shipper like UPS, we also asked our customers to include an address to which UPS can ship (no PO boxes). And to provide us with a phone number, because UPS often needs a phone number. If needed we can clarify any questions we might have about the customer's order, but so far we have rarely needed to call.
My phone numbers are: (530) 758-8847 (farm) and (530) 752-2246 (Univ. of California).
It is of course, not sufficient to offer a quality product. The small operations like ours thrive on customer service. Accordingly, we take every opportunity to say a big
to our customers.
Two members of the crew (below) drag the tarps to both sides of a tree. (This is a small 12 year old tree.) The tarps are attached to the catcher vehicle.
To see a short video, CLICK HERE <- a 33.2 MB .avi movie file.
The shaker (yellow vehicle, below) has just grabbed the base of the tree trunk and is about to shake the tree.
To see another short video, CLICK HERE <- a 24.9 MB .avi movie file.
Below a mature (20+ year old) tree is being shaken. Note the 28 foot length of the catcher. After being shaken onto the tarps, the tarps are rolled up and deposit the nuts along the length of the catcher. A conveyor belt runs the length of the catcher. You can see the nuts being carried up and just starting to spill into the bin attached to the back of the catcher (where the catcher driver sits).
To see yet another short video, CLICK HERE <- a 35.7 MB .avi movie file.
One more view (below) showing the trees left to shake. The dark-colored object attached to the right front of the catcher is a V-8 engine which powers the whole unit.
Finally, the bins are taken with a fork lift and placed on a truck for hauling to the processor. Each bin holds about a thousand pounds ("wet weight") of nuts.
The first address is much preferred: