Raisins: Quality Is Up, Tonnage Is Down

Fewer but Sweeter Raisins this Year 


By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster


After last year’s tremendously successful raisin harvest, Steve Spate a fourth generation farmer, said it is understandable to see a bit of a decline in tonnage this year. Spate, who is also grower representative for the Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA), which has been representing the raisin industry for nearly 50 years, said, “Just by nature, the year following a high crop year could potentially be down—especially for Thompson Seedless Grapes,” noted Spate.

Steve Spate, grower representative, Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA)
Steve Spate, grower representative, Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA)

Raisin grape harvest in the central San Joaquin Valley is a two-month process for growers, typically running from late August to mid-to-late October, depending on crop maturity. Hard numbers on this year’s overall crop won’t be available for a few more months, but growers are reporting a significant decline from last year’s harvest. “Last year was a large crop,” said Spate,” so definitely we were considering that this year would be down—but not as severely as some growers have reported. We have people reporting differences in yield from 10% to as high as almost 50%.”

There are various possible reasons for this year’s drop in yield, aside from the cyclical nature of grapevines. “I think drought conditions last year may have played a big role, while the buds were setting basically for this year,” said Spate. He also suggested water was a significant factor this year as well, particularly if growers lacked enough surface water deliveries or a grower had a pump issue and there was a critical time where he or she didn’t get water on the field.

The overall reduction in acreage of this year’s harvest is yet another factor to consider. Industry experts report approximately 10K to 15K fewer raisin grape acres compared to last year. This shrinkage is attributed to growers replacing raisin crops with higher-value crops such as almonds.

Sun-Dried Raisins
Sun-Dried Raisins

As many industries struggled with the cost and availability of labor, Spate commented that it wasn’t too difficult to fill their labor needs this year. “Going into the year growers made different decisions and chose more mechanized harvests. The handpicking crews were much larger and seemed to be readily available,” Spate said.

While grape growers were thankful for the amount of available labor this year, they have some serious concerns regarding the cost of labor in the next few years. Between a minimum wage that will incrementally climb to $15 an hour in a couple of years and the newly established shorter workday for farmworkers [before reaching the overtime threshold of 8 hours, as opposed to 10 hours], growers consider the investment in mechanization as being more cost effective in the long run.

“I think we will continue to see shifts towards any type of mechanization possible due to some of those minimum wage [increases].” Before the governor signed the overtime bill, Spate said, “We used to have the ability to have workers work longer hours before overtime kicked in.”

Raisin grape growers will still be harvesting for the next few weeks. Although it appears overall tonnage is down a bit, sugar levels seem to be higher than last year, resulting in better quality raisins.

American Pecan Council Begins with Nominations


UPDATE:  September 1, 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking nominations of 15 growers and shellers (handlers) to serve on the American Pecan Council.  Members of the council will be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to administer the federal marketing order with oversight by AMS.

Nomination forms are available on online at https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/moa/986-pecans or by contacting AMS at (863) 324-3375.

Completed nomination forms must be received by AMS no later than Sept. 6, 2016.

Forms may be submitted by mail to USDA, AMS, Marketing Order and Agreement Division, 1124 First Street South, Winter Haven, Fla. 33880 or email Jennie.Varela@ams.usda.gov.

The Final Rule for the Federal Marketing Order for Pecans was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, August 4, 2016. Posted by the , the historic event culminated a three year grassroots effort of pecan stakeholders who collaborated with USDA to write and support the order that is now federal law. This action initiates the process of nominating, selecting, and seating of the administrative body of the FMO, the American Pecan Council. A likely schedule over the next few weeks is as follows:

Week of August 8

  • OMB approves Nomination Forms
  • Call for Nomination Press Release; nomination forms mailed to Shellers and Growers, electronic versions available to download

Week of August 22

  • Deadline for Nominations to be returned to USDA

Week of August 29

  • USDA to mail ballots to growers and shellers to vote on Nominees

Week of September 19

  • Deadline for Ballots to be returned to USDA
  • Deadline for background statements (Nominator should seek to gather this document from the Nominees as soon as someone agrees to be nominated.) Only those with completed background statements can be sent forward on the selection order to the Secretary.

Month of October

  • Selection Press Release for the new Council
  • Conference call with USDA Staff and new Council Members (1/2 day) for FMO Orientation
  • Council meets in person


FAQ about the Nomination Process:

  1. HPecan Cluster Royalty Farmsow will Nomination Forms be made available? Upon approval by OMB, official forms will be posted on the USDA website, mailed to growers and shellers on current USDA lists, and posted on the American Pecan Board website.
  2. Who can nominate? Any grower within a region can nominate another grower within the same region. Any sheller within a region can nominate another sheller within the same region.
  3. Who is a grower? A person who has produced an average of 50,000 lbs. of inshell pecans over the last four years or who has 30 pecan acres. All production or acreage must be within the 15 state production area (domestically produced).
  4. Who is a sheller? A person (entity) who has shelled at least one million lbs. of domestically produced inshell pecans in the prior fiscal year.
  5. What determines a large grower and small grower? A large grower is defined as having pecan acres equal to or more than 176 acres, and a small grower has less than 176 acres.
  6. What determines a large sheller and a small sheller? A large sheller is defined as having handled 12.5 million lbs. or more of domestically produced inshell pecans in the prior fiscal year, and a small sheller is defined as having handled less than 12.5 million lbs. of domestically produced inshell pecans in the prior fiscal year.
  7. Can a large grower nominate a small grower and can a small grower nominate a large grower for the appropriate seat? Yes
  8. Can a large grower second the nomination of a small grower, and can a small grower second the nomination of a large grower? Yes
  9. Can a large sheller nominate a small sheller and can a small sheller nominate a large sheller for the appropriate seat? Yes
  10. Can a large sheller second the nomination of a small sheller, and can a small sheTree Shaker Royalty Farmsller second the nomination of a large sheller? Yes
  11. If a grower grows pecans in more than one region, in which region can he/she be nominated? In the region in which he/she grows the largest volume of their production.
  12. If a sheller handles pecans in more than one region, in which region can he/she be nominated? In the region in which he/she handled the largest volume of domestically produced inshell pecans within the preceding fiscal year.
  13. Can a vertically integrated pecan operation (grows and shells) be nominated as a grower and a sheller? No, a decision must be made by the person (entity) being nominated whether to be nominated as a grower or a sheller.
  14. Who nominates the candidates for the accumulator and public member seats? Once the 15 member Council is seated, they nominate candidates for the accumulator and public member seats.

(Source: )