The 2013 raisin harvest began about a week earlier than last year for Fresno County farmer Bob Brar, now in his 36th season of growing raisins near Fowler, Calif.
This year, crews started hand-picking his 120 acres of Thompson Seedless near Fowler, Calif., on August 30, when the sugar readings of his grapes reached 23 to 24 Brix. He was expecting to have all the grapes laid on drying trays by September 9 at the latest.
Should the mid-90 to low-100 degree temperatures of late August and early September hold, he plans on rolling up the paper trays to blend the drying grapes 10 to 12 days after picking them. Four to five days later, he’ll box the raisins and ship them to the processor.
His bunch counts were up this spring over last year and the size of the clusters and berries was good. Yields on his blocks with loam and clay-loam soils are about average or a little above, and, on some sandier ground they are a little below normal, he reports.
“Overall, I don’t see a bumper crop for the industry this year,” says Brar, who represents the Fowler area for the Raisin Bargaining Association. “I think production will be about 5 percent to 10 percent higher than last year.”
Hotter than normal temperatures in July and August, including readings as high 112 degrees in the first part of July, set his crop back a little. “Vines that were healthy with good foliage weren’t affected very much,” he says. “But, near harvest time, I lost about 10 percent of the crop to shatter on the sandy areas, because I couldn’t give the vines all the water they needed.”
That reflects the low mountain snowpack this past winter, continuing dry weather and tight water supplies, notes Brar. He is served by the Consolidated Irrigation District.
“We received no canal water this year,” says Brar, who relied entirely on water pumped from his 60- to 65-foot deep water table to supply his drip-irrigation system this season.
“When we get our normal deliveries of canal water, I run the pumps several hours a week,” he says. “This year I was pumping water around 70 hours a week to run the drip system.”
Meanwhile, Brar notes, his water table continues to fall.
His area was spared the increased mite pressures faced this year by growers in other areas of the county, including Kerman and Caruthers. However, unlike the last two years, he had to deal with increased leafhopper numbers by spraying an insecticide last month.
Brar was able to hire the 65 workers needed to harvest his grapes this season. “I’ve heard of some growers with larger acreages having problems getting the labor they’ve needed,” he says. “But, in general, I don’t think there’s that much of a labor shortage for harvest.”
However, depending on the price of raisins this year, Brar could come up short on profits from his crop compared to last year. His costs for pumping water have been significantly higher and he’s paying 1½ cents more for each tray of raisins picked this season.