The San Joaquin Valley table grape crop is on schedule for a normal early to mid-May bloom, says John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., Inc., Delano, Calif.
Dime-size hail fell in scattered areas of northern Tulare County and southern Fresno County in April. “It wasn’t widespread, but in spots where it did cause damage, the damage was serious,” Pandol says. “In some vineyards it stripped off leaves.
“But the damage was worse in the area’s tree fruit orchards, which are more numerous. I’ve heard reports that insurance agents are estimating 15 percent to 20 percent of the peach, plum and nectarine orchards were damaged — not just the fruit, but trees themselves were damaged.”
Mexican fresh grapes typically start appearing in U.S. supermarkets in late May and last into July, he notes. They overlap the market for California’s Coachella Valley grapes, which usually start shipping in June, and the July start of the SJV market, which runs through November. Most table grapes available to American shoppers through the winter are from Chile.
“Normally, growers in Chile ship about 35 percent to 45 percent of their crop to the U.S., Pandol says. “But this year, their crop is down about 10 percent to 15 percent from previous years, and the quality of the grapes varies widely in terms of berry size and condition.”
He expects the export market for this season’s California table grape crop to be strong again. The continued weak U.S. dollar lowers the cost of California grapes to overseas shoppers. Also, after settling a dispute with the U.S. over trucking issues, the Mexican government has eliminated its duties on U.S. grape imports.
Developments at home also bode well for California’s table grape industry, he says. Growers continue to replace vines of older, less desirable varieties with newer, more attractive choices for consumers. That should boost sales by improving the overall quality and appeal of California table grapes.
Also, the demand for grape juice concentrate is on the upswing. With more and more corn being diverted to producing ethanol, food manufacturers are replacing high-fructose corn sugar with grape juice concentrate.
That’s caused a three-fold increase in demand for grape juice, Pandol says.
“This has taken a lot of marginal quality fresh grapes off the market and has contributed to better grape prices for growers.”
Last year, California’s table grape acreage totaled 96,000 acres, up 2 percent from 2010. That included 85,000 bearing acres, unchanged from the previous year, and 11,000 non-bearing acres, a 22 percent increase over 2010.
Five varieties represented two-thirds of all table grapes produced by California’s growers last year. The leading variety, Flame Seedless, was grown on 18,200 acres and represented 23 percent of all table grapes. Other popular varieties included Crimson Seedless (13,000 acres, or 17 percent of all table grapes); Red Globe (11,000 acres, or 14 percent); Sugraone (4,700 acres, or 6 percent) and Autumn Royal (4,300 acres, or nearly 6 percent)