Scattered throughout the farm are areas of pine forest typical of the Mediterranean coast. The dominant pine species is the Italian stone pine, or umbrella pine (Pinus pinea), with its characteristic flat top.
When my grandparents purchased the land in the 1930s, there were some areas of pine forest near the coast but my grandparents planted several areas for pine nut production.
The Italian stone pine’s main product is the pine nut – the classic ingredient in pesto and many Italian desserts.
Up until about 10 years ago, the pine nut harvest was one of the mid-level income streams for the farm that helped to cover fluctuations in the agricultural production. On over 100 acres of pine forests, the harvest was of decent size.
Anyone who makes pesto has realized how the price of pine nuts has skyrocketed in the past several years. Many restaurants, industries, and cooks now turn to substitutes like walnuts in pesto because the price for pine nuts is so high.
The price is so high because there is a dearth of pine nut production throughout the Mediterranean.
Our pine forests are no longer productive because of an infestation of the Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis). The bug was imported with timber from the US and has wreaked havoc on the pine forests ever since.
The seed bug essentially sucks the sap from developing pine nuts, obliterating the harvest and halting the plant’s reproductive cycle.
Future of the Pine Forests
The future of our beautiful pine forests is uncertain. The seed bug is having a lasting impact not only on annual pine nut production but on forest regeneration.
Researchers have tried to identify biological controls, hormone traps, or other methods of containment, but actual effective methods for controlling and eliminating the bug have not been approved and are not in use.
We currently graze our horses and cows in one of the pine forests, but we are researching other options for the pine forests so as to revive their health and make them productive again.
In the mean time, if you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!
— Ariane Lotti