Secondly, raisin farming has fallen on economically hard times compared to other permanent crops. Although raisin prices are at record levels of $1,900 per ton, other crops, like almonds, walnuts and pistachios, offer more profit potential at far lower costs.

It can easily cost $10,000 per acre to establish a simple two-wire Thompson seedless vineyard versus $6,000 to $7,000 for an almond orchard. And there is more hand labor in farming a vineyard than an orchard.

Long-time low prices for raisins are why 80,000 acres of raisin-type vineyards have been pushed and shredded in the past decade, despite escalating raisin prices. Yet, Thompsons are still coming out.

The move to continuous trays and DOV raisin production along with reduction in vineyards somewhat has eased the labor situation. It once took as many as 40,000 workers to hand harvest raisins. That need is down to about 20,000 workers. However, each year growers are worried they may not have enough workers to get the raisin crop in bins before fall rains. This past season, there was a season-long shortage of agricultural workers statewide, but raisin growers dodged the bullet once again thanks to the weather that allowed them to start earlier and go later into the harvest season.

However, there are grape growers who have invested in DOV vineyards and are committed to making it work. A small crowd of them and others interested in DOV gathered at a meeting sponsored by the San Joaquin Valley Viticultural Technical Group west of Fresno to hear four growers offer their take on DOV grape growing.

While there was a consensus on some practices, like it being imperative to put DOV vineyards on rootstock to ensure vigor, there seemed to be just as many differences, much of them evolving around trellising, pruning, positioning shoots and canes to solve one big problem.

“Shade is our enemy,” says Ben Letizia, a raisin producer from the Selma area.

He was joined by fellow DOV growers Ron Kazarian of Circle K Ranches in Fowler, Trent Hammond whose family farms in the Biola area and Ron Brase from Rolinda.

The panelists often looked like mimes trying to explaining the various vegetation management systems of pruning and cane placement and cordons. The one thing that has been clear is that there has been plenty of on-farm experimentation.

Kazarian may not have been sold a bill of goods seven years ago when he was told he could get 4 tons of raisins per acre at half the labor costs of traditional raisin production. However, it has been seven years of “frustration” to fill that bill.

University of California viticulture farm advisor for Fresno County, Stephen Vasquez, detailed research work at the meeting he has cooperated on with UC viticulture specialist Matt Fidelibus, based at the UC Kearney field station in Parlier.