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.

2014 NATURAL SEEDLESS RAISIN FIELD PRICE INCREASE

By: Laurie Greene; CalAgToday reporter

The Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA) Board of Directors has announced the 2014 Natural Seedless Raisin field price has been established at $0.8875 per pound ($1,775 per ton), representing a $0.0625 per pound ($125 per ton) increase over last year’s price.

The RBA reached agreement with all twelve of its signatory packers:

  1. American Raisin Packers
  2. Boghosian Raisin Packing Company
  3. Caruthers Raisin Packing Company
  4. Central California Packing Company
  5. Chooljian Brothers Packing Company
  6. Del Rey Packing Company
  7. Fresno Cooperative Raisin Growers
  8. Lion Raisins
  9. National Raisin Company
  10. Sun-Maid Growers of California
  11. Sun Valley Raisins
  12. Victor Packing Company

 

The price will be based on the following formula:

Base price $1,582.00 $0.7910
Moisture @ 10% 80.00 .0400
Maturity @ 75% 50.00 .0250
Container rental 21.00 .0105
Transportation (minimum) 15.00 .0075
RAC assessment 14.00 .0070
USDA inspection 13.00 .0065
2014 Announced RBA field price $1,775.00

$ .8875

 per pound

According to a statement released by Glen Goto, RBA chief executive officer, the MOU calls for growers to be paid in three (3) installments, as they were last year, with an initial payment of 65% due 15 days after completion of delivery or the release of delivered tonnage from Memorandum Storage. The second payment of 20% will be due on or before February 28, 2015, and the final payment of 15% will be due on or before April 30, 2015. Packers may choose to pay all their RBA growers in fewer payments with a shorter schedule.

Individual grower yields this season are significantly lower than the previous season. Today, there is general agreement in the industry that this year’s crop of Natural Seedless raisins will be less than 300,000 tons compared to the 365,000 ton crop, which over the last 12 months our packers have done a commendable job of selling and shipping the entire amount.

Compared to the 20% crop reduction, the increase in this year’s price was a significant compromise taking into full consideration Turkey’s unusually large crop which caused their sultana price to fall.Packers are reporting challenging selling conditions into parts of Europe where sultanas control significant market share. Still, the RBA is giving the industry a crop clearing price because sultana berries are very small and will not work for a large percentage of loyal California raisin customers who specify larger berries, stricter growing and specification requirements, longer shelf-life, and superior flavor.

Steve Spate, grower representative for the Raisin Bargaining Association, “This year’s price was definitely a compromise–one that may make make neither side happy. But, hopefully it will put us in a better position for next year.”

Despite the higher price, California raisin growers face a challenging year as they will receive less revenue in total from this year’s harvest. Price is not the only issue; amid other challenges, growers must deal with continued increases in cost and regulation for labor and water. These issues coupled with other more profitable crop options, such as almonds, walnuts and pistachios, are forcing growers to evaluate how to maximize the use of their land and water resources, contributing to the escalating acreage reductions we have witnessed. For the past ten years, the state has reported a 2%-3% annual reduction in raisin-grape acreage that is now accelerating. Spate said, “The conservative estimate is at least a 10- to 15,000-acre loss of the natural seedless variety by early Spring 2015.  You don’t have to drive more than two miles in the Central Valley to see a pulled raisin field or one in preparation to be pulled.”

Goto hopes this year’s modest price increase will encourage California raisin growers to continue producing enough of the safest, most high-quality raisins in the world to meet yearly demand.

 

 

Mark your calendars!

The 48th Raisin Bargaining Association Annual Membership Meeting

March 14, 2015
Location TBD
10:30 AM with luncheon to follow