California raisin growers have spent more than $172 million since 1985 dealing with oversupplies, according to Nindy Sandhu, a Caruthers, Calif., raisin producer.
Sandhu wrote an article defending the industry's self-help Raisin Diversion Program, and he cited that number as the industry's cost to use surplus raisins to whittle down raisin oversupplies and hopefully return raisins to profitability. The program is simple; growers spur prune their Thompson seedless vines and produce no crop for a season. In return, they receive from the federal marketing order the value of the raisins they would have produced, less harvesting costs. At times the program has also included the option of removing vines altogether or as I like to call it “farming raisins with a D-8.”
It's commendable that the industry is trying to work itself out of its self-inflicted morass. The raisin industry has been down this road before and will likely go down it again. It's unfortunate because California raisins are one of the state's most nutritious and wholesome agricultural products. The industry finds itself mired in debates about diverting production, pulling vines, policing participants and the like because it lags woefully behind other California specialty crops in consumer advertising promotion.
Almonds, strawberries, pistachios and table grapes are crops that come to mind where the challenge of increasing production has repeatedly been met by increasing sales through consumer promotions.
In September I wrote about mealy peaches from a supermarket. In that commentary I mentioned a fruit stand on Highway 180 near Reedley, Calif. (actually it is on outskirts of Minkler, Calif.) were you can find tasty peaches. I took some friends there not long ago and found another delicacy, snack packs of cinnamon-coated Thompson seedless raisins. They were from Chooljian Brothers in Sanger. They are incredible. Nothing is better than a plump juicy raisin, and the cinnamon coating makes it even better.
OK, I am a consumer panel of one. (I also like the lemon and orange essence prunes — sorry, dried plums. I have been known to beg for a chocolate-covered prune! And, everyone knows prunes are in the same financial straits as raisins.)
Don't know how long the Chooljians have been marketing the cinnamon-coated raisins, but they are new to me and millions of other consumers undoubtedly have not heard of them.
Where would the raisin industry be today if it had spent the $173 million on promoting cinnamon-coated raisins rather than vine pullout and raisin giveaway programs. The Chooljians don't have that kind of money, but the industry had it because it has spent it.
Certainly, spending $173 million promoting a specialty raisin is ludicrous. However, it is reasonable to ask where the industry would be today if it had spent that money on a self-help program of promoting overall raisin consumption rather than spend it on a program that was originally called Raisin Industry Diversion (RID).
And, it is absolutely infuriating to hear industry leaders talk about turning raisins into ethanol or cattle feed.