Arizona’s Pistachio Story

Arizona’s Pistachio Story

Heading down to Cochise County you might run into Jim and Ruth Graham, owners of Cochise Groves Farming, Inc., a family farm operation which produces pistachios and wine grapes. In fact, Cochise County produces lots of wine grapes, pecans, and pistachios.

Their pistachio enterprise includes 150 acres (about 21,000 trees) while their vineyard consists of 26 acres of red wine grapes (nine different varietals totaling 21,000 vines). They market their pistachios through the Arizona Nut Company in Bowie, Arizona and through their own modest marketing efforts. About three-fourths of their wine grapes are sold to several leading wineries located in the Verde Valley, Elgin-Sonoita, and Willcox areas.

The Graham’s have about one-fourth of their grapes made into their own wine marketed around the state under the Golden Rule Vineyards label. The high-desert climate of Cochise County makes their farm (4,350 feet elevation) a particularly good place to produce pistachios and wine grapes. They assumed the management of the pistachios from Ruth's parents in 1998 and have doubled the size of the acreage. The vineyard enterprise was initiated in 2007 and they are one of the leading producers of wine grapes in Arizona.

Wine and nuts go together and the Graham story, while unique in many ways, is not a surprising story in this very fertile area of southeast Arizona. Currently, Arizona hosts about 4,500 acres of pistachio trees, mostly grown in this part of the state.

Jim Graham checking his harvest of pistachios.

As a tree, pistachios are hardy but take a lot of attention. Pistachio trees are alternate bearing, meaning they have strong production one year and little the next.

The Murphree’s have a pistachio story too. We tried Pistachios, specifically putting in 90 acres of pistachio trees on the Neely farm in Maricopa (Pinal County) in the 1970s. We started out with a Pistachio seedling nursery. We grew the Pistacia atlantica rootstock at the time, getting our seed from California. We sold quite a few trees throughout Arizona and some into New Mexico. We’ve calculated that a couple hundred acres are probably in existence today from the rootstock we grew and sold to Pistachio farmers in Arizona and New Mexico.

We’d bud the rootstock with the Peters pollinator and the Kerman variety dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are born on different trees. We had one male, or pollinator, tree to anywhere from 12 to 16 female trees. Depending on the prevailing wind, dad would put the pollinator tree on the west side.

Back to the Grahams. Dad and I figured out that one of the mature orchards Jim and Ruth harvest their pistachios from is one of the orchards we budded in Cochise County decades ago. Time flies and it all circles back around.

The Grahams are a hard-working and creative Arizona farm family and grow some delicious pistachios! 

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