Despite less-than-remarkable production from his Thompson seedless vines this year, Monte Schutz, Caruthers, Calif., has been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the raisins he has made from them.
And a raisin price this year that is one of the highest on record has only added to his pleasure.
“The change in quality of the raisins was a big shock,” he says. “It improved drastically from what I had expected, based on the low sugar levels of the grapes just before we began cutting canes in August.”
The third generation of his family to produce raisins, Schutz began his second term as president of the Raisin Bargaining Association earlier this year, and also serves as vice chairman of the Raisin Administrative Committee.
He harvests about three-fourths of his grapes mechanically, and started cutting canes Aug. 23. That compares to some years, when he’s started as much as eight days earlier.
Hand picking of the rest of his vineyards, which don’t lend themselves to machine harvesting, began the first week of September, also a week or so later than normal. But, he had all raisins in bins by Oct. 4, which is about the time he normally finishes. A late September heat wave, with temperatures as high as 100 degrees, probably helped shorten the drying time, he speculates.
Still, he would have preferred to produce more raisins than he did. “I won’t know until we go across the scales,” he says. “But, going by the bin count, our yields were a little lighter than last year. I think production was down for most growers this year.”
That includes at least three, but not all, of his neighbors. “One had a good size crop, bigger than last year,” says Schutz. “That’s kind of frustrating to me — you always seem to want more production, especially with the high raisin price this year.”
Growers will be paid $1,500 a ton for 100 percent delivery of raisins this year, one of the highest prices ever. Also, it’s the first time since 2004 when there has been no reserve pool. Last year growers received $1,323 per ton on 85 percent of the raisins they delivered to packers.
The strong price and elimination of free tonnage reflects smaller worldwide supplies of raisins this year, including those produced in the Middle East and South America. Meanwhile, production of California raisins is still in decline as some growers, disappointed by previous raisin prices, continue to pull out vines to make room for other crops. The 2010 price is welcome news to the industry, which hopes it will encourage more growers to keep their vines.
“Finally, because of record sales of raisins the last few years and our aggressive export program, we have supply and demand in more balance,” Schutz says. “Depending on sales and crop sizes, an export program may be needed again in the future.”