Raisin acreage and the number of raisin producers has declined dramatically over the past decade, due to the inherent uncertainty of both the raisin and wine markets and the availability of more profitable and economically settled crops like almonds and pistachios. Raisin grape acreage has dropped by almost 100,000 acres in the past 10 years. It’s now a little more than 200,000 acres and is still falling by 2 percent to 4 percent per year, according to Goto. This reflects growers who tear out vineyards and do not replace them with more vines.

“It is much more expensive to plant a vineyard than an orchard,” said Goto, adding that almonds and pistachios have been consistently more profitable than raisin grapes for several years. Not counting land costs, a grower can easily spend $10,000 per acre or more to establish a trellised vineyard versus $6,000 to $7,000 for an almond orchard. The difference is basically the cost of hardware to put in a vineyard.

Schutz farms 350 acres of raisins — all Thompson seedless. He grew up working his family’s vineyards. These are good times for him and his fellow raisin producers.

At current prices, Schutz is able to continuing farming without incurring new debt. Good raisin returns also allow him to look at new equipment, repairing or replacing stakes and end posts and replacing trellising wire. He can also incorporate compost and other soil amendments over the winter.

“The price of raisins has been a very positive thing for the community. Our local tractor dealer is very busy, and that is good. Farmers can afford to buy things they have not been able to for several years,” he said. He added that growers were able to afford compost or other soil amendments last winter.

Surviving for Schutz has been a matter of cutting costs. One of the biggest cuts has come in harvesting expense. Goto said Schutz was one of the earliest to mechanically harvest onto a continuous paper tray for drying.