“All in all, it has been a good season,” says Dave Clyde, Stevco president, who says they expect to finish up this year’s Coachella Valley table grape harvest shortly after the Fourth of July holiday.
“Yields have been good,” he says. “So far, the best looking grapes have been the Sugraones. They’re very good, but the Flames look good, too.”
Crews began picking Flame Seedless, the first variety to ripen, on May 18 — two days earlier than last year’s start. Shortly thereafter, harvesting of Sugraone and Summer Royal began.
The schedule called for Thompson Seedless harvest to get under way the third week of June, with harvest of Scarlet Royal, the last of the farms’ desert varieties to mature, the following week.
Grapes are smaller than usual, on average, Clyde says. Several spells of hot weather in May, when temperatures rose as high as 115 degrees, probably played a role in that. Sugar levels have been good.
“Our production practices are designed so that each block of grapes is ready at a specific time,” he explains. “And, everything seems to be going according to schedule; we haven’t had any problems yet with sugar or color.”
“Prices are about as good as last year, maybe just a shade lower,” Clyde says. Last season’s prices were extremely good.
Flame Seedless has been fetching the highest prices, selling for $22.10 to $24.10 per 18-pound lug, and reflecting consumer preference for the slightly sweeter taste of red grapes compared to green varieties.
“Sometimes, we get a higher price for black grapes than reds,” Clyde says. “But, for every one or two pallets of black grapes we sell, we’ll usually sell an entire load of Flames.”
He attributes the strong prices to consumer awareness of the nutritional value of fresh fruits and vegetables, in general, and the taste of grapes, in particular. “Eating a nice bunch of grapes is good for your health, and it can satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time,” he says.
Stevco is gearing up to start its San Joaquin Valley table grape harvest around July 4, beginning in Kern County with Sugraones. That would be a good two weeks earlier than last year, when cooler than normal weather slowed crop maturity.
“It’s been an excellent growing season in that area of the state, and we’re looking for a very good crop,” Clyde says.