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Ban on Iranian pistachios is boost for California farmers

New U.S. trade sanctions linked to Tehran's nuclear program remove a competitor from the domestic pistachio market.

September 29, 2010|By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times

California pistachio growers are finding themselves the unexpected beneficiaries of U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

A U.S. ban on Iranian pistachios went into effect on Wednesday, as the Obama administration ratchets up economic pressure on Iran to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection. President Obama signed the ban on July 1.

It's good news for American pistachio farmers, who have long vied with Iran for dominance in the U.S.'s $700-million domestic market, as well as overseas. And it's particularly welcome for Golden State farmers, who are in the midst of harvest season. More than 98% of U.S. pistachios come from California, which produces about 375 million pounds annually; the bulk of that production comes from the San Joaquin Valley.

In recent years, the U.S. has surpassed Iran as the world's largest grower. California farmers have boosted their yields and nearly doubled the acreage of their groves, while farmers in Iran have seen their yields cut by poor weather.

Iran ships only about a million pounds of pistachios to the U.S. a year. But industry officials said the lack of competition — even if only temporary — could bolster domestic sales for U.S. farmers.

Still, those Iranian pistachios have to go somewhere, said Richard Matoian, executive director of the Western Pistachio Assn., a trade group that represents about 400 farmers in California, Arizona and New Mexico. At least 65% of the pistachios grown in the U.S. are exported overseas. California farmers have been making an aggressive push into emerging markets, particularly China

"We're not sure how this is going to affect the foreign markets," Matoian said.

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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