Fresno County Thompson seedless grower Monte Schutz, president of the Raisin Bargaining Association, has had a good start to this year’s season.
“The weather has been just perfect,” he says. “It’s beautiful the way the vines look. They’re growing every day — they’re tall and reaching for the sky.”
He was expecting a mid-May bloom. Right after bloom, when the new crop reaches BB size, he’ll spray his Caruthers, Calif., vineyards with gibberellic acid to encourage a little more grape size and better quality.
The Raisin Bargaining Association has released its April bunch count, down 19 percent from the same time last season. Schutz isn’t surprised as vines recover from the big 2011 crop.
He has been treating his vineyards to prevent powdery mildew, and so far, pressure from the disease has been average. Once the shoots had pushed out about 2 to 3 inches, he started spraying vines with wettable sulfur and copper fungicide every 10 to 14 days. In addition to providing powdery mildew control, the copper also helps prevent phomopsis.
By the time the shoots reach about 12 to14 inches in length, phomopsis is no longer much of a threat, he says. That’s when he’ll replace the copper with a sterol inhibitor fungicide. He’ll alternate that treatment with applications of sulfur, in the form of either dust or wettable powder, until veraison.
Spider mites are his main pest problems, usually becoming a concern in midsummer when weather turns hot.
Last year at harvest, Schutz saw vine mealybugs in his vineyards for the first time. So, around the third week of this month, he’ll spray to control them.
He irrigates mostly with drip systems, although he flood irrigates a few vines. He pumps water, but is concerned that growers who count on surface water, but are not going to receive a full allotment, will resort to groundwater pumping. “If those growers who normally don’t pump water begin pumping this year, the water table could drop,” he sayss.
Schutz is looking for a higher raisin price this season, even though last year’s $1,700 per ton price was a historical high. He expects the field price to be firmed around Aug. 1.
He is encouraged by a 3 percent increase over 2011 in raisin sales for the first six months of the current marketing year. Demand for Thompson juice is also trending up.
Last year, raisin grape growers received $265 a ton for green Thompsons. “Now, people are starting to talk about a $300 a ton green price for this year,” Schutz says. “That’s just a rumor — but it’s a positive sign. I’m not hearing of a lower number than last year.”