Raisin growers dodged the labor shortage bullet last season with the unenviable scenario of a very short crop – one of the lightest on record. This year, good fortune in terms of crop load and favorable growing conditions could present challenges at harvest.

“We’re very concerned about the labor situation,” says Glen Groto, chief executive officer of the Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA). “Last year it didn’t matter too much because there wasn’t much of a crop. This year could be very different. Tree fruit harvest is just starting, so it won’t be long before we have a better handle on the labor situation. So far we certainly haven’t heard of an overabundance of labor.”

Like other industry groups, RBA is actively involved in trying to push through at least some form of immigration reform this year before the focus turns to the next election. “We’re pushing hard to at least get the AgJOBS bill pushed through,” Goto says. “If we can’t get comprehensive reform right now, we think the AgJOBS bill will be a good pilot program to begin with.”

With this year’s crop looking at least average or above average and very little disease or pest problems reported thus far, labor could be the fly in the ointment for 2007. Earlier, RBA reported bunch counts for the 2007 crop slightly higher than the ten-year average with Thompson Seedless at 37.74 bunches compared to the ten-year average of 33.58.

“The only other concern right now is water,” Goto says. “The vineyards are a little dry due to below average rainfall over the winter. There’s a lot of pumping going on to replenish that moisture and that adds up to increased energy costs at a time when energy costs are very high.”