Raisin packers and the Raisin Bargaining Association have reached an agreement on the field price for this year’s Natural Thompson Seedless (NTS) crop, $1,900 per ton, another record, surpassing last year’s record of $1,700 per ton.

RBA represents about 30 percent of the total California raisin crop. One third is committed to the cooperative, Sun-Maid Growers of California. The other third is considered independent growers. The RBA historically sets the field price others must match or exceed.

The price was set after an “extremely challenging” negotiation process, according to Glen Goto, RBA chief executive officer. It came after the crop was made and established by the Raisin Administrative Committee as one of the smallest in a decade, 287,290 tons, 20 percent less than was delivered in 2011. Last year the industry sold 325,000 tons, which means carry-in will be critical to meet demand.

The bunch count for this crop was 15 percent to 30 percent lower than last year, making the crop at least 25 percent smaller. Also driving the price up were wineries paying 23 percent more per ton than last season, which diverted more green tonnage for crushing instead of raisins. The fear of a labor shortage also weighed in grower decisions to harvest green rather than dry into raisins.

While raisin prices have been at record levels for at least three seasons, Thompson seedless vineyards continue to be removed and replaced with more profitable alternatives like almonds, wine grapes, olives for oil and pomegranates.

“Hopefully, the increase in this year’s price will keep the current acreage from being removed and planted to more profitable crops,” Goto said.

Within this year agreement, Goto said the moisture incentive was doubled to compensate growers for the loss in weight for bringing in a drier product which will make it better for the industry to store and process.

RBA also agreed to the following payment schedule; 55 percent of the field price upon delivery; 20 percent by Feb. 28, 2013; 15 percent by April 30, 2013 and 10 percent by June 1 next year.

“The implementation of the payment schedule has been a positive factor in maintaining market stability throughout the sales year,” Goto said.