Pistachio cultivation in Spain 

As consumers increasingly turn to healthy alternatives and functional foods, the pistachio market continues to experience solid growth, both nationally and internationally.

This nut is highly versatile and has enormous properties and nutrients, making it highly prized and currently in demand in a variety of sectors. As well as being consumed in its natural form, raw or roasted, pistachio-derived food products are also marketed, it has been incorporated as a key part of gastronomy and is an innovative ingredient in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical sector.

However, the cultivation of this fruit is one of the most demanding plantations. Only in a few places in the world can the pistachio tree thrive. Spain is one of these select areas.

A 360º view of pistachio cultivation in Spain.

In this post we offer a 360º vision of pistachio cultivation in Spain. We expose the different reasons that make it an attractive and profitable agricultural production in our country, why pistachios are highly demanded in different sectors and what is the future projection.

Spain as an outstanding place for the cultivation of pistachios

España como lugar destacado para el cultivo del pistacho 
Spain offers privileged conditions for pistachio cultivation.

The success of pistachio cultivation is conditioned by factors such as climate, topography, soil, and the agronomic methods or practices used. For example, the pistachio tree adapts to a multitude of soils as it is suitable even in poor, stony and limy soils.

But the most important factor is the climate, and this is the main reason why it can only be cultivated in a few privileged countries on the planet.

Although the pistachio tree has the ability to survive and be productive under adverse climatic conditions, it is a tree of hot, dry summers, withstands winter cold and resists drought. However, it requires certain chilling hours during the winter break and low relative humidity. For example,

  • To grow and mature, this tree needs climates with long, very hot and dry summers, with more than 3,000 hours of sunshine.
  • During its vegetative period, the pistachio tree needs very cold winters (not freezing). It must accumulate at least 600 hours of cold.
  • Humidity can influence the appearance of fungi and make harvesting difficult. For this reason, it is very important that the climate is dry.

Spain has the ideal climatic conditions for the cultivation and production of high quality pistachios, under organic practices.

Our country has several climatic zones. One of the most marked is the continental climate zone, perfect for the development of the pistachio tree and the production of optimum fruit, because it has extreme temperatures, with very hot summers and harsh winters. In addition, rainfall is scarce, predominantly in autumn and spring.

Of course, certain factors have to be considered. For example, it is advisable to cultivate the crop in areas far from humid coasts and special attention must be paid to late frosts, which may damage the ripening of the fruit.

Nowadays, pistachio cultivation is distributed in different regions, mainly in Castilla la Mancha, where approximately 80% of the pistachio plantations are located. Communities such as Andalusia, Extremadura, Aragon, Castile and Leon, Madrid, etc. have also joined.

avance de datos de Frutales no citricos y frutales secos 2022 Pistachio cultivation in Spain 
Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Non-citrus and Dried Fruit Data Advance, 2022)

The profitability of a hectare of pistachio 

It is essential to consider that in this type of crop, profits are obtained in the medium and long term. The pistachio tree has a long unproductive period, which can vary according to the growing conditions (a period which can be shortened with the use of certain technologies). However, when the tree reaches adulthood it has a high productive potential, which can extend to more than 50 years. 

This is followed by a long unproductive period of 3.5 to 4.5 years, which can reach its maximum production level between the eighth and tenth year. Consequently, the return on investment can occur between the 12th and 14th year. Everything will depend on the variety of pistachio, the management of the crop, the climatic conditions, etc.

On the other hand, the average production of pistachio in shell in dry land is equal to 1,500 kg/ha, while in irrigated land it is more than 3,000 kg/ha.

Spain will be Europe’s largest pistachio producer 

España será el mayor productor europeo de pistacho 
Spain, one of the main pistachio producers in the world.

In Spain, the area cultivated with pistachios is growing steadily. In fact, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pistachio cultivation is one of the fastest growing crops in Spain and has already exceeded 70,000 hectares.  

Although, as this type of plantation is a recent development, yields per hectare have yet to reach maximum productivity. 15% of the crop is still in its first year, while 67% are young plantations.

  • Therefore, it is a fact that in the next 6 to 8 years, when our plantations reach their maximum production capacity, we will experience an exponential growth in Spanish pistachio production.
Avance de datos de Frutales no citricos y frutales secos 2022 produccion Pistachio cultivation in Spain 

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Non-citrus and Dried Fruit Data Advance, 2022)

In recent years, the demand for this nut has increased, both in Spain and internationally (especially in Europe).

  • In order to respond to the domestic market, it has been necessary to increase imports. Because, although domestic production is also increasing, the plantations are not yet in full production and it is not yet possible to completely cover domestic demand.
  • In addition, although with few tonnes, high quality pistachios are being exported to the international market, mainly to European countries.

According to data from the European Pistachio Council CEP, there are three countries that lead this crop in Europe. But only Spain has the climatic and geographical conditions to expand pistachio cultivation, solidify its growth and lead the production of this nut in the European Community. For this reason, our country will triple its current production by 2028.

Let’s look at the following data.

  • Greece. It has the largest production so far: 8,000 tonnes on 10,000 hectares. But it has no possibility of expanding its cultivation. 
  • Spain. It has more than 70,000 hectares planted, of which only about 10% is in production.
  • Sicily, Italy. It is the third largest pistachio producer in Europe, with 2,000 tonnes on 5,000 hectares. However, due to its geographical location, it is also limited in its ability to expand this crop.

New markets in the use of pistachio: gastronomy, cosmetics, healthy food

Nuevos mercados en el uso del pistacho: gastronomía, cosmética, alimentación saludable 
Pistachio is increasingly in demand in different sectors.

Pistachio consumption has risen, both nationally and internationally. This is due to the versatility of this nut and the strong global trends in healthy eating and the search for physical wellbeing.

  • Pistachio has a unique flavour and colour, which is why it is being successfully used in gastronomy. It is an ingredient that combines perfectly with ice creams, cakes and countless savoury dishes. It is also a nut that facilitates culinary innovation.
  • Pistachios contain high amounts of vitamins, amino acids, minerals, antioxidants, phenolic compounds, fibre, etc… Research published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information and the information service of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has linked pistachio nuts to a number of benefits, such as weight and blood sugar control and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. For this reason, pistachio nuts are in high demand by:
    • The food industry, for the creation of functional foods (foods that, in addition to their natural supply of nutrients, provide a specific benefit to the organism).
    • The pharmaceutical industry. For example, for the manufacture of nutraceuticals (alternative pharmaceutical products with high physiological benefits).  
  • Pistachio is an excellent source of vitamin E and antioxidant compounds, helping to fight free radical damage to skin cells. For this reason, several cosmetic companies are introducing the nut as a key ingredient in skin, hair and face care products such as essential oils, creams and soaps.

This business opportunity represented by pistachio cultivation is increasingly recognised by entrepreneurs and investors in the sector. Many have decided to pioneer the cultivation and commercialisation of pistachios in Spain, with the future vision of competing in the international market.

How to make pistachio growing profitable? 

At Agróptimum we become your partner in the pistachio business. We offer a completely personalised 360º service and we accompany you in the integral management of pistachio cultivation, to guarantee the maximum return on your investment.

We have a team of agronomists who are experts in evaluating the conditions of each field and in determining the specific needs for the cultivation of pistachio, almond, olive trees, etc., in order to maintain control of each parameter and achieve maximum efficiency in the plantation.

We offer comprehensive agricultural advice on each of the tasks to be carried out. For example, we guide you in the preparation of fertilisation plans, in irrigation programming, in the calculation of water allocation and in the programming of the necessary phytosanitary treatments.

We adapt to your requirements and we are with you at all times, from sowing to harvesting. We provide immediate assistance, by telephone, instant messaging or e-mail. Because our main objective is that the needs of your plantation are always covered, in order to increase the quality and yield of your production.

If you want an innovative, sustainable and profitable crop, contact us. We can help you. At Agróptimum we offer you our experience, knowledge and technology.

Main sources:

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (IRTA), Plataforma Tierra (of the Cajamar Group) and European Pistachio Council.