The Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA) has announced the 2009 field price for natural seedless raisins will be $1,323 per ton, payable when deliveries reach a total of 275,000 tons and an industry-supported export program is funded.

The Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC) has recommended a final free tonnage percentage of 85 percent and a reserve percentage of 15 percent, based on a crop estimate of 275,000 tons.

Until the USDA authorizes the final percentages, an interim free tonnage percentage of 84.75 percent has been established for grower payments. The RAC also recommended an export replacement program to operate from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2010, which will be funded by the reserve percentage

To expedite payments to growers for their 2009 natural seedless raisin deliveries while the RAC reserve is accumulating, the RBA and its 14 signatory packers have agreed on the following payment structure:

• Fifteen working days after making final delivery, a grower will be eligible for an 85 percent payment of the field price ($1,323 x .85), or $1,124.55 per ton.

• The initial payment price will be payable at the RAC interim free tonnage percentage of 84.75 percent ($1,124.55 x .8475). This amounts to a maximum payment of $953.06 per ton to growers 15 working days after they complete their final deliveries.

• A final payment, consisting of the field price times the final free tonnage percentage less the initial payment ($1,323 x .85 – $953.06), would result in a maximum final payment of up to $171.49 per ton. This will be due when the RAC crop estimate of 275,000 tons is reached and export program payments are initiated.

Growers are reporting their raisin crops significantly smaller than last year, but remaining inventory from last year’s production will help offset the reduced program from this year’s crop and hopefully, provide adequate supplies to meet market requirements, says Glen Goto, RBA’s chief executive officer. This will be determined by the actual deliveries made from this season’s production.

He’s encouraging growers to deliver their crops in a timely fashion, since the sooner the 275,000-ton estimate is delivered, the sooner final grower payments can be made.

While California growers are expected to produce fewer raisins this year than in 2008, quality is higher, says Eric Cisneros, general manager of Fresno Cooperative Raisin Growers.

He agrees with the 275,000-ton estimate. “Based on grower deliveries made up to mid-October, we seem to be headed towards that estimate.”

Lower production this year was due to weather, including a late freeze, and bunch rot. The 2009 raisin grape crop features larger berries and very tight bunches, Cisneros notes.

“By late October or early November, we’ll get a better idea of how much the weather and bunch rot have reduced yields,” he says. “But, so far quality of the raisins, in terms of maturity and underdeveloped berry levels, is the best we’ve had in several years.”