The first step in mechanically harvesting grapes for raisins is cutting canes. Ideally, Schutz wants to cut canes 14 days before he plans to machine harvest. The minimum is 10 days.

This cane cutting begins the dehydration process on the vine before the machine gathers the grapes to finish drying on continuous paper trays unrolled between the vine rows.

“The longer the grapes can dry on the vine, the better the shatter will be when they are harvested by the machine. There is also much less juicing at harvest the longer they are on the vine,” Schutz said.

Shatter is when the drying grapes separate from the stems. The more shatter, the easier it is to clean the raisins before boxing and shipment to the processor.

The dry down ratio to produce raisins is about 4 tons green to 1 ton dry.

Schutz averages about 2.3 tons of raisins per acre. He says his farming area is located among the industry’s higher producing regions.

Goto and Schutz said the RBA will likely ask for a field price of about $1,600 per ton for the 2012 crop to cover increased production costs, primarily related to higher energy and fertilizer costs.

“Raisin sales continue to be good, and we do not anticipate a burdensome carryover from the 2010 crop into 2011, even though the 2010 crop came in a little bigger than was initially forecast,” Goto said.

The final 2010 crop on Aug. 1 should weigh in at about 330,000 tons. Goto does not expect the carry over to be above 100,000 tons. This compares to about 90,000 tons carried into the 2010 season. These raisins are used to carry the industry from Aug. 1 until the new crop is processed in the fall.

“We are not swimming in raisins,” said Schutz, who is also vice chairman of the Raisin Administrative Committee. “The historical average carryover is about 120,000 tons.”

It is going to take a hefty price from wineries to convince growers to go green. Wineries have been shopping a $250 per ton green price.

“They may be shopping, but I have not heard of any buying,” said Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, the state’s largest wine grape marketing cooperative. Last year Allied released many of its growers from harvesting green to make raisins when Thompson green prices fell short of matching the profit potential for raisins.

“We have indications that the Thompson price will need to be close to that $250 or more before the Thompson grower will not make raisins. There still seems to be plenty of demand for Thompson seedless,” he added.

The next step in the production process is counting bunches to get an idea of the potential crop size.

“We’ll do those in a couple of weeks,” said Goto. That will provide more insight into this year’s crop size. The crop has been slowed by cold spring weather. However, the irrigation water supply outlook from wells and surface deliveries has been bolstered by above average rainfall from the cold, wet weather.

Overall, the Thompson seedless/raisin industry is perhaps as healthy as it has been in a couple of decades.