With bunch counts down significantly from 2011 and shipments of raisins remaining strong, market watchers are talking of a price for this year’s crop of at least $300 a ton — which would be 13 percent above last year’s record $265 per-ton price for raisin-type grapes.
For the first 10 months of the marketing year, raisin shipments are up 1 percent. Should that trend continue through the end of this month, the industry could ship roughly 327,000 tons for the year.
That, in turn, say observers, indicates a raisin price of $100 or more above the record $1,700 per ton growers received for last year’s crop.
This season’s bunch counts by the Raisin Bargaining Association, Allied Grape Growers, and Sun-Maid Growers, range from 12 percent to 32 percent below 2011 figures,
The bunch count in Bob Brar’s 120-acre Thompson seedless vineyard near Fowler, Calif., is down, but not as much as the averages. “It could be 5 percent to 10 percent less than last year,” says Brar, who has been making raisins for the past 35 years.
His 2012 grapes are maturing faster than in 2011. This year the vines bloomed mid-May, about the usual time and a week or so earlier than last season. Veraison also began about the normal time this year, July 2.
While his yields will likely be lower this year, Brar expects to harvest good quality grapes.
“So far the crop looks very good,” he says. “We’ve had no problems with powdery mildew, and the size of the berries is good.”
And, as of mid-July, he hadn’t had any problems with Pacific mites, leafrollers or leafhoppers, either. In fact, there was no need to treat any of his vines.
At mid-July, Brar ran the last potassium of the season through his drip irrigation lines. As usual, he makes four, beginning the first of June, to help build sugar levels in the grapes.
His fertilizer applications include nitrogen in late May and mid-June and some phosphorus in June. Also, he treated vines with zinc and calcium in May and a little boron in late June.
Higher raisin prices the last two years have made manure more affordable. Brar put dairy manure on sandy areas of his fields in December at the rate of 10 tons per acre, to improve soil nutrient levels and water-holding capacity.
All his fertilizer applications are based on results of soil tests done in December or January and petiole analysis when vines are blooming. He pulls 35 or 40 petioles per field, selecting those close to bunches.
“That gives me the best indication of the nutrient levels the berries are actually getting,” Brar says. “Sampling petioles from farther down the shoot, closer to the trunk of the vine, may show more nutrients than will reach the bunches. Testing petioles taken from higher up the shoot — at the end, for example — may indicate a lower level of nutrition than the bunches are receiving.”
Brar will hand-pick tray-dried grapes when they reach 20 to 21 Brix.
“The way things look now, we’ll probably start the last week of August or the week after,” he says. “I hear rumors that there’s not much labor around this year. I hope we have enough workers to cover the harvest.”