It’s been a tough road for raisin growers the past few years, but their collective bad fortune seems to finally be turning due to a number of factors including the efforts of the Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA) in Fresno, Calif. For starters, the ’08 crop appears to be on track with few glitches, according to RBA’s CEO Glen Goto.

“Harvest is winding down to the crop insurance dates of Sept. 20 for hand harvest and the 25th for mechanical continuous trays,” Goto says. “The labor situation has not been an issue this year, and there should be no problem with growers putting their crop on the ground by those dates.

“The long range weather forecast appears favorable at this point in time with no storm activity in view,” Goto says. “There is a healthy crop of grapes this year with the major concern being grape maturity. Sugar levels appear to be increasing at a slower rate than last year, and the fruit will have a higher conversion factor. We normally use 4.5 to 1 as the standard for how many pounds of grapes to make a pound of raisins and this year it could be as high as 5 to 1.That difference could impact a raisin crop of 300,000 tons by 10 percent.”

More than 150,000 acres of grapes have been pulled out over the past decade, most of that Thompsons. This has reduced the supply for wineries, which have not had to step up pricing to get Thompsons for crushing and juice grapes.

“The wineries have picked up their share of raisin type grapes and current pricing remains at $225 per green ton,” Goto says. “Every 50,000 tons of grapes crushed means 10,000 fewer tons of raisins produced this year as well.”