For the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is buying surplus pistachios that will go to Federal food and nutrition programs.  

USDA to buy pistachios for the first timeThe 2011 pistachio crop is projected to be down slightly from the record haul of 2010, said Rich Matoian, executive director of the Fresno, Calif.-based American Pistachio Growers.

“We knew the industry would have a larger than normal carry over,” he said.

The organization’s board of directors voted in May to approach the USDA about purchasing the surplus nuts.

On Sept. 21, the USDA announced a solicitation to bid for the purchase up to six million pounds of roasted, unsalted in-shell pistachios.

“The bids were submitted in a blind, electronic competitive process,” Matoian said. “APG members won’t know the number of grower-shippers who participated until the bid winners are announced.”

If the government buys the maximum six million pounds, it would represent about 4% of domestic shipments, he said.

The pistachios will go to programs serving needy families and senior citizens, Matoian said.

“We discussed with the USDA the possibility of placing the nuts in school programs, but if the pistachios were going into schools, the government would insist on shelled product, which is more expensive,” he said.

California accounts for 95% of the domestic pistachio production, but there also are grower-shippers in Arizona and New Mexico.