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Iran's Pistachios Are Worrying American Farmers

Pistachio farmers in the US are worried about their business now that they face competition from a country where pistachios have been grown since—well, for a very, very long time.

by Alex Swerdloff
Feb 23 2016, 8:00pm

Foto von Triker-Sticks via Flickr

When you think about the lifting of sanctions against Iran thanks to its agreement to limit its nuclear capabilities, you probably don't think about pistachios.

But you should.

Pistachio farmers in the US are worried about their business now that they face competition from a country where pistachios have been grown since—well, for a very, very long time. The name of the nut in English is even derived from the Persian "pisteh."

Last year was miserable for the American pistachio farmer. The weather sucked, with high temperatures and little precipitation decimating half the crop. But this year may be worse. For geopolitical reasons, that is.

READ MORE: Iran Has Lost Its Nuclear Program But Regained Its Caviar Industry

Iran is known for its oil, but it is also known for pistachios. Until the US imposed sanctions on Iran following the hostage crisis of 1979 through 1981, many if not most of the pistachios sold here were from Iran.

After the door to Iranian pistachios was shut 30-odd years ago, though, the American pistachio industry boomed. Jim Zion of Meridian Growers in Clovis, California explained to NPR that American pistachio farmers keep calling him, worrying that the market will now be flooded with foreign nuts.

"We've had a lot of growers calling, asking. And I said, 'It's the way the world is,'" Zion says. He's not that worried, he says, partly because Iranian pistachio imports face high tariffs in the US. Even though Iran can now legally sell in the US, with the tariff the nuts cost three times as much as American grown ones. Zion says the tariff helps balance out an injustice, because the Iranian government subsidizes that country's pistachio industry.

READ MORE: Iran Is Banning the Word 'Wine'

If the tariff were to be removed, things could get really bad for American pistachio farmers. Brian Blackwell of Tulare County, California says, "If they're bringing in product for less than what we can grow it for, and we have to compete in the marketplace, at least here in the United States, then that means product is going to be sold at a lower price. And therefore the processors and marketers are going to give growers a lower price."

The threat is real: Richard Matoian of the American Pistachio Growers says Iranian farmers will likely try to make the case that they're not subsidized by their government as soon as this summer, in a meeting with the US International Trade Commission.

If that happens, chances are you're going to be seeing way more pistachios of Iranian origin in the near future.

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