San Joaquin Valley Thompson seedless growers are harvesting what appears to be their smallest crop in the past six years. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast this year’s raisin-type grape production at 1.9 million tons. That’s below average and 13 percent down from last year’s estimated 2.18 million-ton crop.
This year’s smaller crop comes as no surprise to veteran Central Valley grape growers. A big crop tends to be followed by a smaller one the next season, notes Jeff Bitter, vice president of operations for Allied Grape Growers. The Fresno-based marketing cooperative has nearly 600 grower-members statewide. “In the past 25 years, California growers have never harvested two bumper crops of Thompson seedless in a row,” he says. “And, just because production is down this year doesn’t necessarily mean a big increase in the size of next year’s crop.”
Sugar levels in the Thompson seedless vineyards are measuring about 18 brix or better, he reports. Growers like sugar readings of at least 20 or 21 before they lay their grapes on trays to dry. “The sugars have been moving up steadily, and we anticipate the quality of the grapes will be excellent. We’re seeing very uniform maturity in the grapes, and the relatively loose clusters should reduce any risk of rot as the grapes continue to ripen.”
(For more, see: Thompson green price reaches $325 per ton for short crop)
The Raisin Bargaining Association and its signatory packers have not reached a price agreement for this year’s raisin crop. However, wineries have already set the price for green Thompsons at $325 per green ton, 22 percent higher than last year.
(For more, see: Grape conditions looking well as harvest nears for growers)
“No one wants to make the wrong move (on the price of raisins),” Bitter says. “Packers don’t want to overprice their product and lose sales, while growers don’t want to undersell their raisins, especially if the crop is light and there’s the potential for a shortage. The market may be waiting to see how much of the Thompson seedless supply gets picked up by the wineries.”
The price is likely to be somewhere in the $1,700 to $2,000 per ton range.
“There’s a lot of optimism among growers that this year’s raisin price will be a strong one,” Bitter says.