Italian production of chestnuts surpasses 50,000 metric tons annually, approximately half of chestnut production in Europe. China dominates the international market with production of over a million metric tons annually of Asian chestnuts, different from European varieties belonging to the species Castanea sativa, which are known to be of better quality.
In the last twenty years the Italian chestnut industry has revived. Many old chestnut groves have been pruned for renewal, the damage from chestnut blight has receded and the market for high quality nuts (European chestnuts and hybrids) has been profitable and encouraging for growers. The revival of the chestnut industry has given birth to the concept of the specialized orchard planted with chestnut varieties to provide high quality nuts for fresh consumption and upmarket sweets.
The fresh market demands large chestnuts (for roasting and boiling), while the processing industry requires easily peeled chestnuts suitable for candying, syrups and “marron glacè”.
Both markets prefer and pay more for large nuts of European varieties.
Unfortunately, the Oriental chestnut gall wasp, a dangerous parasite imported from China, has been present in Italy for the last ten years, first in the province of Cuneo and now spread throughout Italy.
The gall wasps, classified in the order hymenoptera, afflict chestnut shoots by damaging growth and preventing female flowers from blooming, thus seriously compromising yield.
Releases of a natural parasite of the wasp, imported from Japan (Torymus sinensis) seem to have been effective, and may be able to contain the damage from the gall wasp.