It Pays to Prepare for Pistachio Harvest

Scheduling irrigation prior to harvest and contracting a harvester are two key components to a timely pistachio harvest (photo by C. Parsons.)

During the weeks leading up to the 2021 pistachio harvest, besides monitoring crop maturity progress, growers can also prepare orchards for an efficient harvest.

Keenan Farms Farm Manager Zack Raven said he expects their west side orchards to be ready for harvest by Sept. 11 or 12, possibly earlier depending on August weather. Until that time, he said, planning for harvest is important.

A firm contract with a custom harvester, irrigation management and safety meetings are his priorities in August.

As more acres of California pistachios reach maturity, Raven said, harvest equipment can be spread thin. There is not shortage, he stressed, but every year it is a stretch to make sure machines arrive at the orchard when needed.

“We contract harvest, so we specify when they will arrive, the price for harvest and the number of days. This is a valuable crop, and it needs to come off in a timely manner,” Raven said.

The UC IPM guidelines note that a timely harvest is important for avoiding navel orangeworm damage and aflatoxin. The longer nuts remain on the tree after hull split, pest damage is more likely. Growers and farm managers must consider pre-harvest intervals (PHI) when applying late-season insecticides to control NOW. There are some insecticides with PHI as short as two days, but Raven said he must still coordinate with harvest machinery.

Irrigation scheduling, to meet water demand by trees and allow for ground to dry prior to harvest, is another consideration.

Worker safety and food safety during harvest are important, Raven said, and meetings for harvest workers are held prior to harvest.

Training prior to harvest lets workers know what to watch for during harvest and, more importantly, whom to call if they see something wrong.

“If they see barked trees, they have to know to stop the machine and call,” Raven said.

Worker hygiene, wearing gloves and not picking up nuts from the orchard floor are stressed.

He said workers walk orchards prior to harvest and clear out any branches or debris that will hinder harvest equipment.

Being out in the orchard prior to and during harvest also allows for monitoring of Alternaria late blight and Botryosphaeria panicle and shoot blight and noting the severity of infections for next year’s management. Presence of mealybugs in the orchard can be reported so harvest equipment can be cleaned before moving to the next block.