The recently announced $1,500 per ton field price for this season’s California Natural Seedless Raisin crop is a record.

However, raisin growers are not dancing in the vine rows. There are mostly sighing survivors because the price milestone is erected on the carcasses of 75,000 acres of Thompson seedless vineyards, plenty of red ink since 2000 and the financial demise of many small, family grape growers. It is also another testament to a monopolistic and economically fickle California wine grape industry.

Raisin growers receiving the record price this season are the cast members of the longest-running reality survivor series. It has been a decade-long financial roller coaster for Thompson seedless raisin producers in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Although domestic and export raisin shipments have remained relatively stable over the decade, grower returns for raisins have been like a bouncing ball. This has been largely due to widely fluctuating prices for green Thompson seedless grapes for crushing either for wine or concentrate. It has ranged from a low of $75 per ton to as much as $225 per ton. This has created chaos in the raisin industry. When green prices are high, growers go to the winery with fresh grapes. When green prices are low, the grapes are dried into raisins and dumped into a federal supply management marketing order system to deal with the oversupply.

This uncertainty in the grape and raisin industry along with more favorable economics in permanent crops encouraged many growers to replace the destroyed 75,000 acres of Thompsons with crops like almonds, pistachios, citrus, pomegranates and, of late, olives for oil.

It has taken a decade of economic disarray for the raisin industry to finally reach a supply and demand balance — for at least one year.

The Raisin Bargaining Association’s $1,500 Natural Seedless Raisin price negotiated with the 13 Valley processors/packers is the highest “field price” in 20 years because of this balance. A relatively short crop also helped.

More importantly, the price is an all-in price. The traditional two-tier supply management system is gone.