Things were looking pretty good for raisin grape growers earlier in the season, but recent rains are putting a bit of a damper on the current forecast.

“The 2007 raisin harvest began with great expectations,” says Glen Goto, CEO of the Raisin Bargaining Association. “It appeared that the grapes were maturing early to allow the harvest to begin earlier than ‘normal’ and provide an opportunity to utilize the labor force available for an extended period of time.”

What appeared to be good fortune in terms of the labor situation turned out to be a problem on a different front.

“The earlier start to the harvest may have contributed to more crop being exposed to the initial rainstorm on Aug. 30, where there may have been up to 20 percent of the crop exposed to the precipitation,” Goto says. “As the harvest continued into September, we estimate that 25 percent of the crop may have been picked, rolled and brought out of the field prior to the next storms on Sept. 20 and 22. We feel that there was around 50 percent of the crop exposed in the field during the last set of storms, meaning that over 70 percent of the 2007 raisin crop may have been subject to damage by the rains in August and September.”

That could translate into significant yield loss if raisins must be washed and dried.

”To date, it appears that the greatest problem is with embedded sand,” Goto says. “Hopefully, the weather will remain dry, warm and breezy for several weeks to allow the balance of the crop to be harvested from the field with no further problems.”

Rick Stark, grower relations manager for Sun-Maid Growers of California offered a bit more optimistic outlook.

“The crop was a bit early and with good quality. The rain was followed by perfect conditions to make them continue drying. There may be 10-20 percent of the crop damaged, but time will tell. If the weather holds, we are optimistic the crop will dry on its own.”