The challenge of feeding a burgeoning, increasingly hungry world in the future is a recurrent theme with agricultural leaders these days. All of them cite U.S. agriculture as playing a prominent role in feeding a world population that is projected to double in less than four decades. This bodes well for the economic future of American farmers and ranchers.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told members of Allied Grape Growers at the grape marketing cooperative’s annual meeting in Fresno, Calif., that California, the most productive agricultural state in the nation, will be a major contributor to meeting those food demands.

There has never been a “better or more challenging time” for highly diversified California agriculture in meeting not only global food demands but consumer mandates for locally grown food in a state of 38 million people, she said.

This is particularly true for producers of so-called specialty crops like fruits and nuts meeting the changing dietary demands of a growing world middle class, as well as local consumers. California is the prime U.S. supplier for many of these commodities such as almonds, fresh market grapes, walnuts and pistachios.

It would seem that the future is here this year for Allied’s San Joaquin Valley wine grape grower members who are likely to hang out 'sold out' signs on vineyard gateposts by the end of July, well ahead of harvest, according to Nat DiBuduo, president of the marketing cooperative.

Those grapes could bring Allied grape sales revenues to the highest level since 1987, according to the chief executive officer.

Allied represents almost 600 growers and more than 31,000 acres yielding more than 285,000 tons of grapes in the San Joaquin Valley and the North Coast. Sales should total more than $80 million this season.

This season is the turnaround DiBuduo and others have been predicting for several years, but not realized until now. DiBuduo’s bullishness for the future of the California wine industry also comes with a caveat: “Be careful what you ask for.”

DiBuduo’s offers his admonition because the California wine grape market for growers has proven it can be as fickle as a Hugh Hefner girlfriend. This is not the first time in recent years DiBuduo and others have been bullish only to be rebuffed by winery buying tactics — like going offshore to buy foreign wine instead of paying California growers profitable prices.

“We appear to be heading in the right direction for the California wine industry for both the vintners and growers,” said DiBuduo, explaining that wine sales are up domestically, exports are strong and demand for California's quality wines is much improved and “reaching exciting profitable levels for wineries and, hopefully, growers as well.”

Nevertheless, exports continue to flow into the U.S. with as much as one-third of the U.S. wine sales being foreign wines, encouraged by the federal government’s “duty drawback” program, DiBuduo said.