Raisin grape acreage has plummeted since 2003 and the free fall may not be over.

About 35,000 acres of raisin grape acreage has disappeared in three years and removals will continue, according to Glenn Goto, manager of the Raisin Bargaining Association in Fresno, Calif.

Many reports indicate traditional Thompson grape vineyards had already been removed by October and vine removal companies had a heavy schedule for the remainder of the fall and winter, Goto reported to the 25th annual Agribusiness Management Conference in Fresno.

He also reported that 10,500 acres of raisin type grapes were planted using the overhead trellis management systems for mechanical harvesting of raisins.

The natural seedless raisin crop from'06 estimated raisin type grape acreage of 240,000 appears to be “significantly less” than the 2005 deliveries of 319,000 tons. The Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC) estimates this year's Natural Seedless crop at 259,557 tons.

Goto estimates the green crush this season at 300,000 tons, 175,000 tons less than ‘05.

Total raisins grape availability is estimated at a little more than 2 million green tons, 11 percent below '05. However, Goto says the crop appears to be 20 percent to 30 percent less than last year.

Despite a smaller crop and continued vineyard removals this year, Goto expects pressure to continue on traditional Thompson raisin production, partly due to high yield gape concentrate vineyards coming into production on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley and sluggish raisin shipments. Shipments last year dropped 4 percent for the domestic market and 9 percent from 2004 levels.

As production from these vines comes into production, the Thompson grower will be left with two rather than three, raisin production or removal of his Thompson vineyard.

The decision will likely swing to the latter as labor continues to be a major challenge for non-mechanized raisin producers. Even pruning labor is getting short. It was last year and Goto does not expect that to change this winter.

Manual labor for pruning and harvesting traditional in-row sun-dried raisins accounts for more than 40 percent of the total operating costs for raisin production.