Banned Iran Pistachios To Come Back: US Pistachio Growers Worry After Iran Sanctions Lifted

Iran pistachios were banned until recently, when levied on the country were lifted. Considered the best pistachios, they are essentially the pride of Iran. Historically known for its pistachios, brittle, and candy, they’re one of Iran’s main non-oil exports.

They are sold in huge quantities to countries like China. Even in the U.S., a large amount of the pistachios sold came from Iran. However, that changed 30 years ago.

Tehran, Iran - October 18: Market stall with nuts and kernels near the central market on October 18, 2015 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images)

An embargo was put in place on the Iranian nut in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. The American pistachio industry started booming after that. Jim Zion, with Meridian Growers in Clovis, California, told the NPR that this opened the door for the U.S. pistachio market to flourish.

He said, “An average consumer, they would see an American pistachio and an Iranian pistachio, and they’re going to say, yeah, there’s something different. Ours tend to be round; theirs tend to be a little more long. Almost in every other market around the world, we compete with them on a day-to-day basis.”

In early January, the sanctions against Iran, including those on pistachios, were lifted because of Iran’s reduced nuclear program, raising fears for the American pistachio industry.

Worried farmers call Zion, “We’ve had a lot of growers calling, asking. And I said, ‘It’s the way the world is.'”

He thinks that farmers shouldn’t be overly worried. In spite of domestic competition, there are plenty of other countries eager to buy the American nut.

He said, “I’m not that concerned, to be honest. It doesn’t matter whether I sell this product to someone in Chicago or someone in Singapore. It’s all the same for me.”

Banned Iran Pistachios To Come Back: US Pistachio Growers Worry After Iran Sanctions Lifted
ZARANDIEH, IRAN - OCTOBER 5, 2011: Pistachio produce is quality controlled by women sitting on the factory line on October 5, 2011 in Zarandieh, Iran. Approximately 500 hectares of land owned by Mr. Mahmoud Barani produces organic pistachio. The export of pistachio to Europe and the US has been badly affected by imposed sanctions on Iran. Iran has been a pistachio producer since the fifth century BC and the days of the Achaemenid Empire. Aficionados of the Iranian nuts ascribe their dominant position in global markets to superior taste and quality. (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Also, the U.S. pistachio industry successfully lobbied for a 300 percent tariff on Iranian pistachios in 1986. Thirty years later, consumers will have to pay three times as much for Iranian pistachios when sold here as they do for U.S.-grown ones. The tariff is in place to make it a level playing field, as the Iranian government subsidizes the country’s pistachio industry.

Zion stated, “It was making it a very unfair competition. All people want, especially growers, is just a fair and level playing field. We fully expect [Iranian growers] to go ahead and challenge that at some point.”

Brian Blackwell, who manages more than 10,000 acres of nuts in Tulare County, California, believes if the subsidized Iranian pistachios were allowed into the U.S., it would hurt the growers whose farms he manages.

He explained, “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.”


Blackwell realizes that the tariff may not be in place forever, and when lifted, it could become harder to sell his crop. Even so, he says he’s not sure the industry would be hurt all that bad.

He said, “This is a global market nowadays. So if Iran brought a million pounds of pistachios into the United States, that just means there’s a million pounds out there somewhere that didn’t get sold in China or Europe”

What this means is that U.S. growers could sell those million pounds of pistachios to these places instead.

One main challenge that both pistachio rivals face is the changing weather affecting productivity and water availability, according to the Financial Times.

Iranian farmers may try to prove they’re not subsidized by their government in a meeting with the U.S. International Trade Commission this summer, according to Richard Matoian with the American Pistachio Growers. As a result, Iranian pistachios could hit the American market sooner than expected.

[Image via bitt24/Shutterstock]