Spurred by strong demand and a great growing season, California’s table grape industry could ship the largest number of boxes of grapes ever.
The California Table Grape Commission is estimating shipments of the 2012 crop will total 101 million boxes.
This would be the first time shipments have even reached the 100-million-box mark.
In three of the last five years, annual shipments averaged 97-to 98-million-boxes.
“We’ve had 100-million-box crops on the vines before, but, because of adverse weather, we’ve never been able to get all the grapes in the boxes,” says Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “This year, we think we will.”
In its latest grape production forecast, released Aug. 10, the USDA/NASS projected that California’s growers will produce 1 million tons of table grapes this year — 3 percent less than last year.
The California table grape harvest starts in May in the Coachella Valley before moving north into the San Joaquin Valley in July. However, 60 percent or more of the crop is harvested and shipped after Sept. 1, Nave notes. The harvest can extend into December with shipments to buyers continuing into January.
Based on information from packers, the USDA reported shipments of 2012 table grapes exceeded 40 million boxes by Sept. 14. “Because the shipper’s reports are done on a voluntary basis, we think the actual total shipments up to that point were close to 47 million boxes,” Nave says. “If so, we’re only about halfway through our shipping season.”
Shipping volume, however, isn’t the only significant news about California’s 2012 table grape crop.
“This is one of the highest-quality crops we’ve had in long time,” says industry veteran chuck Olsen. “As a result, the grapes have been flying off the shelves at the supermarkets.”
The quality of the grapes reflects ideal growing conditions this year from bloom to harvest. “The weather has been absolutely perfect for maturing the crop,” he adds.
Olsen is managing partner in the family-owned Chuck Olsen Co., based in Visalia, Calif., which grows, packs and ships table grapes. The company’s vineyards stretch from Delano to Orange Grove.
Early varieties are Princess, Autumn Royal, Scarlet Royal, Summer Royal, Autumn Royal and Thompson seedless. Olsen expects his growers to wind up the 2012 harvest in October with Crimsons and Red Globes.
In meantime, they’re just starting to pick their Autumn Kings. Quickly establishing a reputation for its big, luscious fruit — larger than Thompson seedless — this light-green grape Autumn King, was developed by USDA researchers at the Kearney Research and Extension Center near Parlier, Calif. Autumn King is technically termed a white grape. It was licensed to the industry-sponsored California Table Grape Commission and released to nurseries in 2005. Because it stays firm and sweet in cold storage, Autumn King may be available through late December.
“It’s replacing storage Thompson seedless and is catching on very well in the market,” Olsen says.
The latest f.o.b. prices of table grapes were ranging about $2 to $4 above 2011 levels. In the third week of September, 2012, a box of Crimson was selling from $14.10 to $16.10. That’s about the same as Red Globe. Scarlet Royals were trading in the range of $16 to $18 and Autumn Royals in the $18 to $20 range. Olsen expects Autumn Kings prices will start in the low- to mid-$20s.
Right now, he anticipates shipping the last of his 2012 crop in the first half of December. That’s similar to the close of his season last year.
“The way the market looks now, will probably hold on to some fruit and finish selling by Dec. 5-15,” Olsen says.