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.

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Despite Great Harvest, California Apple Growers Face Challenges

California Apple Growers Face Regulatory Disadvantage

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Many California apple growers are in the midst of harvest season right now. Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission expects a 3% increase in production across the country. Ott foresees a 1% increase in California this season, where apples stand out because of their freshness.

“California is the fifth largest producer of apples in the United States,” Ott explained. “We are about the third largest exporter of apples in the United States. We like to pick, pack and ship. Unlike other states that like to store fruit and have that fruit around longer, California apple growers like to get in and get out,” Ott said.california-apple-commission-logo California Apple

“We have a small marketing window and we pride ourselves on fresh crops,” Ott elaborated. “So we try to get out of the market no later than December. Sometimes we go as late as January, but the idea is to [quickly] fill that niche window between the Chilean and the Washington state fruit.”

Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission
Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission

Yet, the California apple industry faces challenges going forward. Ott stated, “Over the last five years, California apple crop production has decreased by nearly 39%. A lot of that has to do with the changing of the crops. Any time you start to see an uptick in another crop, especially when it is not hand labor-intensive like apples, you will see a migration to those types of crops.”

Transitioning toward less labor-intensive crops may accelerate since Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1066. This bill will enable California farm employees to accrue overtime pay after working an 8-hour day, instead of a 10-hour day.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for California apple growers,” Ott said, especially given the labor shortage. “So apple production in the state will decrease.”

Ott lamented many countries already produce a lot of these other less labor-intensive crops. AB 1066 definitely puts us at a competitive disadvantage in keeping up with demand. The challenge is how can California apple growers compete with farmers in other state and countries who can do it faster and cheaper?

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Keeping the California Dairy Industry Afloat

The Necessity of Keeping the California Dairy Industry Competitive

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

 

Anthony Raimondo, an attorney with 15 years of experience working with farmers and farm labor contractors, is concerned the California government is placing the state’s agricultural industry at an economic disadvantage compared to other states. Raimondo used the California dairy industry as a prime example in which arbitrary in-state legislation is giving other states an advantage.
dairy cows

 

“The state government tells the dairy farmer how much they get to charge for milk,” explained Raimondo. “They have now raised minimum wage and overtime, with AB-1066 becoming law, but they do not tie any of that [added cost] to the milk price. Farmers will lose money,” he said.

 

“The California dairy industry is still fighting to be a part of the USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO),” Raimondo continued. “But until that happens, the added costs are causing many California dairymen to weigh their options.”

 

Increasing government regulation is making it difficult for California dairies to compete with other states, Wisconsin in particular. Raimondo elaborated, “For many years, Wisconsin’s milk production was on the decline and California’s milk production was on the rise; that trend has now reversed. Wisconsin is now on the rise again and California is on the decline because our dairies can’t make it with the level of regulation and the level of cost,” he said.

 

“Some dairies have reduced hours to keep costs low,” said Raimondo. “Other dairies are closing either because they are going out of business or because they are moving to places like Idaho and Texas where the milk price is better and the cost profile is more favorable.”

 

The move to a FMMO would help even the playing field for California dairies. Raimondo warned there is a lot at stake if nothing is done to lower milk production costs in the number one Ag state. “We are going to lose a segment of agriculture that is 100% family farms. Family farming is one of those things that is precious to our state, and it can’t be brought back once it’s gone,” Raimondo said.

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Farmers Leave California Due to Regs

Nassif Warns that More Farmers Will Leave Highly Regulated California

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

Earlier this summer, the California legislature voted down Assembly Bill 2757 which would have ended the 10-hour workday for farmworkers and eliminated their opportunity for overtime pay. Now, the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, is trying again with Assembly Bill 1066.

Tom Nassif, who has presided as president and CEO of Western Growers for the past 14 years, described this bill as a major cause for concern for farmers. “That’s very top-of-mind,” said Nassif. “Many of our members tell us the increase in minimum wage is onerous and the overtime bill is even worse; it will be more expensive and all it’s going to do is drive more producers out of production or into foreign countries,” he said.
Western Growers logoFrom his many years as a labor attorney working with multiple growers and shippers throughout the state, Nassif has a clear understanding of how this type of bill would adversely affect the farmworkers it’s being touted as helping. “When you think about the fact that you’re going to be taking ground out of production or moving production somewhere else, eventually you’re not going to have enough jobs. Additionally, people are starting to move into crops that don’t require so much labor, like tree nuts, which are mechanized,” noted Nassif.

Nassif explained that over the past few years, the overall cost of farming in California has risen more than 30 percent resulting from the climbing cost of water, various types of government regulation, and increased wages. “If AB 1066 were passed and put into effect, farmers will do what they need to do in order to survive, including limiting worker hours and hiring additional workers to make up the difference, or simply moving the entire farming operation to another state that’s more cost-effective.”

Nassif noted he has already heard of some farmers who are not waiting for costs to become more expensive and have already left California. “No question; it has been happening for a number of years,” said Nassif, adding the number of departures is growing all the time.

“You cannot put up with the high cost of production and micromanagement by the government, whether it’s the state government or the federal government or even regional governments, and have an effective economic model for farming,” Nassif stated. “Pretty soon that is just going to drive everybody away. They can produce much more cheaply in foreign countries.”

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Call for Action to Oppose Overtime Bill AB 1066

Overtime Bill AB 1066 Needs Immediate Opposition

By Laurie Greene, Editor

California Assembly Bill (AB) 1066 to change overtime requirements for agricultural workers is returning as a “gut and amend”* measure scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 29, 2016. Emily Rooney, president of the Agricultural Council of California (Ag Council), is urging the agricultural industry to tell the State Senate TODAY how this bill would hurt farmworker wages.

California Senate SealCalifornia already requires agricultural employers to provide overtime pay to farmworkers after they work 10 hours in one day and 60 hours in one week, which recognizes the flexibility that farmers and employees need given the variable nature of farming and seasonal labor. Authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), AB 1066, phases in a new overtime wage law requiring California farmers to pay agricultural workers overtime after eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week by the year 2022.

Rooney says AB 1066 adds an unnecessary regulatory burden on the agricultural industry, and, combined with the recently passed $15 minimum wage law, makes it difficult for farmers in the state to remain competitive. “We do need six democrats to vote with us to oppose the bill, which will be a challenge,” said Rooney. “The Senate is left of center, at least compared to the Assembly, but we are working very hard to secure those votes and just hope that the bill doesn’t get back to the Assembly.”

Rooney said the Assembly killed a similar bill earlier this month. “It is very disappointing that the bill has been repackaged and presented to the Senate as a gut and amend bill, AB 1066,” she said. “The new bill was basically reintroduced less than two weeks after we defeated it in the Assembly.”

agricultural-council-of-california-logo140Rooney stressed the importance that the Senate not approve AB 1066, because should the Senate approve it, the bill would go back to the Assembly because both houses are needed to pass the bill. “And while the earlier bill failed in the Assembly, we are not sure that it would fail again,” she said.

There are Assembly legislators who voted against it before, who are willing to vote against it again, said Rooney, “but the timing of it is really unfortunate. We expect that while the legislators are on summer recess in July, they may have time to build up support for the bill. It’s the end of session, and we have a number of challenges to defeat the bill; but we are hopeful that if the California Senate does not defeat it, the Assembly will,” said Rooney.


Rooney suggested those who oppose AB 1066 go to the post, “Oppose Gut & Amend Legislation to Change Ag Overtime Wage Requirements” on the Ag Council Action Center webpage“to easily send an opposition letter to their state legislator.


*GUT AND AMEND, according to the California State Legislature Glossary of Legislative Terms describes when amendments to a bill remove the current contents in their entirety and replace them with different provisions.


Featured Photo:   Emily Rooney, president Agricultural Council of California


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