California’s 3,000 raisin producers are undoubtedly the happiest of the lot of more than 8,000 grape growers statewide.

Barring a catastrophic weather disaster or a total collapse of traditional raisin markets, survivors of one of the raisin industry’s most challenging decades are assured of at least back-to-back profitable years and likely at least a third.

Three years of prosperity are rare.

California’s 600 table grape growers have certainly been successful over time. Last year they shipped almost 100 million boxes of fresh market grapes worldwide. However, table grape prices are spot market vulnerable.

California’s 4,500 wine grape growers are optimistic that 2011 will be an economic turnaround season for them after almost a decade of uncertainties. However, optimism has turned to despair more than once in the recent past. Price offerings this year for San Joaquin Valley lower priced wine grapes are reflecting an escape from economic malaise. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for premium wine grape producing area. There remains uncertainty on the higher end of the scale.

Raisins, though, are coming off a near historic 2010 with equally promising 2011 and 2012 seasons ahead.

Raisins have been part of California’s viticultural history since the late 1800s and part of the American diet just as long. Raisins were elevated to American iconic status with the famous Dancing Raisins a decade ago.

California raisin producers are bunched together within a 100-mile radius of Fresno, Calif. This interwoven group of growers enjoyed one of its best years ever last season, receiving not only $1,500 per ton from raisin packers for their dried crop, but it was all up front money with 100 percent 'free tonnage.' Similar unprecedented results are expected this season with hopes of a three-peat in 2012.

The Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA) negotiated a $1,500 per ton, two-year contract with packers last year. The bargaining association that represents roughly one-third of the industry’s growers is looking for a “modest” field price increase in 2012. The other two-thirds of the industry are split between independent packers and another piece of Americana, the raisin cooperative Sun-Maid Growers of California.

The RBA’s negotiated price is the price setter for the industry each season.

RBA president and Caruthers, Calif., third-generation raisin grower Monte Schutz expects another 100 percent free tonnage crop this season. He has never seen back-to-back full crop payment years in his 30 years of producing raisins. The $1,500 price is not a record, but it is exceeded only by a $1,600 price more than 30 years ago when the majority of the crop was ruined by rain.