Opinion

Pine nut harvest in Europe stinks. Afghanistan and China resumes trade.

Pine Nut
Afghanistan
China
Italy
Published Dec 2, 2021
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There are very few commercial pine nut plantations, and pine nuts are harvested mostly from wild pine trees. Europe’s harvest has been devastated by stink bugs in recent years and production could drop further. The damage to pine cones and nuts by these insects will become clear in the next couple of months as the harvest comes in. On the other hand, Russia, China and Afghanistan are expecting an increase in production. China’s production can’t keep up with booming domestic demand, which has driven prices as high as USD 23,500 / MT. The first shipment of pine nuts from Afghanistan under Taliban rule has arrived in China in November and Afghanistan will hope to keep the flow going.

The harvest of pine nuts

Pine nuts are not a traditional commercial crop, in the sense that they are harvested from wild pine forests and commercial pine nut farms are nearly non-existent. Furthermore, pine trees can take 10 to 40 years to gain optimal yields. Labor costs for collecting the nuts are also high, despite all other input costs being low, or negligible in the case of wild pine trees.

Pine trees produce periodic crops, and an “on-year”, with good yields, happens as little as every 3 to 5 years. On top of that, as pine nuts are harvested mostly from wild forests, there is very little management of the trees, in terms of fertilizer, irrigation, and other farming practices. As a result, the global production of pine nuts is erratic.

The harvest of pine nuts in the northern hemisphere kicked off recently and in some parts will last until March.

Source: INC

Top producing countries and world production

Different species of edible pine nuts are found all over the northern hemisphere, in a wide variety of climates. In some of these remote forests, only a small proportion of the total pine nuts are harvested because the rest is inaccessible or too remote. However, prices could drive harvesters deeper into these forests. Especially in Russia, production expanded rapidly over the last years.

Source: INC

Due to the manner in which these nuts are harvested, the erratic production and little control over who enters the forests to harvest the nuts, production and trade data is scarce or even non-existent in many cases.

The International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) estimates world pine nut production at 43,810 MT for the 2021/22 season, up 27% from the 2020/21 season. This is due to larger crops expected in China and Russia.

Source: INC

Mediterranean Pine Nuts and Stink Bugs

Mediterranean pine nuts are popular in many traditional dishes, most famous being pesto. It is also used in salads, pastries, and snacks among others.

Spain, Italy and Germany are the main importing countries in Europe. The largest producers o of Mediterranean pine nuts are Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. In recent years, pine nut crops have been demolished by stink bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis or Canadian cimicione). Some parts of Italy report a drop of 75% in production while pine harvesters in some areas of Lebanon report they have only 10% of their former production.

Source: Natural History Museum of Venice Giancarlo Ligabue

The harvest in Italy just kicked off, and will run until May. It is still too early to assess the extent of the damage by these bugs to this season’s crop and it will become clear as the harvest comes in. However, the drop in production in the Meditteranean region is obvious over the past three seasons.

Source: INC

*Blanks indicate data is not available

China’s production expanding, but can’t keep up with demand

China’s production has been expanding, but so has demand. Recent domestic consumption figures are not available, but as production and imports are trending higher and exports are trending lower, it is clear that domestic demand is soaring.

Prices in September of imported pine nuts were a record USD 23,500 / MT compared to below USD 10, 000 / MT before the hike in shipping costs, and labor shortages in some countries, caused by the pandemic. The fact that buyers are willing to pay these prices, further indicates how strong domestic demand has been inside China.

China has also continued its purchase of Afghanistani pine nuts after the Taliban came into power. 45 MT of pine nuts arrived by plane at the beginning of November, which marked the first shipment between the two countries under the new rule in Afghanistan. China launched an air freight corridor between the two countries in 2018, with a focus on dry and fresh fruits. At that time it was estimated that Afghanistan would export up to 23,000 MT of pine nuts annually. This air corridor was only recently reactivated after the Taliban took over. Afghanistan is expecting a bumper crop this season and should be a large supplier to China.

Source: INC

*Blanks indicate data is not available

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