A week before the California Table Grape Commission was to announce its estimate of the size of this year’s California table grape crop on April 26, at least one industry insider was predicting it will be the biggest ever.
“There’s potential for this to be the state’s first 100-million-box crop,” says John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., Inc., Delano, Calif.
This comes on the heels of last year’s 98.3-million box crop, valued at $1.3 billion. Over a third of the crop was exported to more than 62 countries. The record crop size was set in the 2008 season, when California packers shipped 99.1 million boxes from May through January.
Over the past decade, Pandol notes, the smallest table grape crop measured just under 80 million boxes. Kern and Tulare counties produce the most table grapes, with Fresno, Madera and Riverside growing most of the rest.
California’s table grape acreage has remained fairly stable since the mid-1990s, he says. He attributes the possibility of this year’s record crop size to three major factors:
- More acres of newer, higher yielding varieties.
- Increased use of steel trellis systems that can support heavier production than traditional wood stake systems.
- Good chilling hours this past winter.
Pandol expects this year’s table grape harvest to begin around the second week of May when Coachella Valley grapes — mostly Flame Seedless and Sugraone — start maturing. The bulk of those grapes, however, will come off in June.
“Last year, the Coachella Valley production was in the low to mid 6 million box size,” he says. “Word on the street is that this year, the crop there could be in the high 6 million box range.”
Like others, he’s concerned about the current retail prices of table grapes. “We’re hoping that inflation in food prices in general pushes grape prices up,” Pandol says. “The 99-cent retail ads are unsustainable. Stores had already planned their prices before diesel prices began rising. So, the retailers are trying to take the higher trucking costs out of F.O.B. Table grapes have become a victim of sticky pricing. Consumers have an unrealistic idea of what grapes should cost.”