California Table Grape Industry Continues Record-Breaking Shipping Season
California table grape growers shipped more than 27.7 million boxes into the worldwide marketplace from October 13 to November 30, the highest amount ever for the time period, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The previous seven-week shipment record during the same time period was set in 2013. Earlier this season, the five-week shipping record for the time period between September 8 through October 12 was broken.
The three-month period of September 1 to November 30 set another record with over 55 million boxes of grapes shipped—an all-time high, according to USDA, beating the previous record set in 2013 for this time period.
According to Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, an aggressive fall and winter promotion program continues, with shipments expected to continue through the end of January.
The California grape season is beginning, and the harvest will continue into the winter. California Ag Today recently spoke with Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno based California Table Grape Commission, about table grapes.
The California Table Grape Commission was established by an act of the state legislature in 1967 and approved by a grower referendum in 1969. The purpose of the commission is to maintain and expand markets for fresh California grapes and to create new, larger interstate and foreign markets.
“We are just getting started with a California season. We will be picking grapes all the way into December,” Nave said.
Grapes are a spring, summer, fall and early winter fruit. Sixty percent of the table grapes that are harvested in the state of California are harvested after September first.
“I would just ask people to remember that they can enjoy California grapes in the spring and the summer, in the fall and into the early winter,” Nave said.
There are new varieties of California table grapes. These grapes have been grown by and designed to provide more product for the customer.
“New varieties of grapes were created that would allow growers to continue growing and harvesting in the late October, November, and December time period,” Nave explained.
These varieties were created with the climate in mind. This way, they can thrive and be packed and shipped in November and early December.
“It takes a long time to develop new varieties of table grapes, get them out in the field, learn how to grow them and to get them to the marketplace,” Nave said.
You might want to take a second look when reaching for fresh grapes in your local grocery store, said Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission. She urged buyers to choose California table grapes when grocery shopping.
“It can be convenient to reach for the nearest bag in the store when turning to grapes for a healthy snack, but what if we told you those grapes could be from places as far as Mexico or Chile? What if we then gave you the option to have some right out of your backyard?” Nave asked.
“If you have the choice, please choose the California grapes, because those are the grapes that are supporting our rural communities here,” she said.
Nave explained that the California Grape Commission is pushing retailers hard to get their grapes up on the shelf, and they need consumers to support them. She said that if the bag says U.S., then it is from California, as California grows 99 percent of the grapes that are commercially produced in the United States.
Nave explained that the best way to make sure you are buying local is by asking.
“Ask your produce manager for U.S. or for California grapes. That’ll make a big difference,” she said.
California table grapes are now being harvested. Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission told California Ag Today that fresh grapes are now available in local stores.
“California table grape growers began picking a couple of weeks ago, and consumers should be able to find California grapes in their stores today. And certainly, as the season progresses, grapes will be more and more available,” Nave said.
Consumers should be buying grapes for the taste as well as good health.
“Grapes contain about 1600 different phytonutrients—all kinds of things that are really good for us, and many important vitamins. There’s something magical in grapes that appears to have a lot of potential health benefits.”
Nave said she tells people that they need to be eating grapes basically every day because there’s something really good for us in the combination of things that are in grapes, and that’s grapes of all colors: red, green and black.
“They definitely taste great. Kids love them. So you know, they’re a healthy snack. They look beautiful when you add them to things like salads or you know, even pizza. You can even roast them. So they’re amazingly versatile and then they’re so good for us,” Nave said.
There are about 450 table grape operations in the state, from Southern California to Madera.
“There are vineyards in the Coachella Valley. We have long had a group of growers growing grapes in the desert,” Nave said. “Those are the earliest grapes that are available and are found in stores now, And then of course in the San Joaquin Valley, we have table grape growers from the Tehachapi Mounts North into the Madera area.”
By Jeff Cardinale, California Table Grape Commission
Offering fresh grapes as part of the school lunch menu helped improve the school lunch eating behaviors of children in a pilot study conducted through Texas A&M University.
The study looked at the effects on plate waste when fresh grapes were offered compared to when they were not offered. The results show that when the school meals included grapes, consumption of healthier menu items increased, suggesting that grapes can serve as a “gateway” fruit to healthier eating.
The study was conducted in two elementary schools and two middle schools from one school district in Texas. Grapes were made available on “grape days” as an offered fruit choice. Non-grape days were defined as days when grapes were not offered.
Study results included:
When offered as a fruit choice, grapes were minimally wasted.
On grape days, lost dollars attributed to vegetable plate waste was significantly less than on non-grape days.
Intakes of effective calories, fat, sodium, protein, and fiber per serving of entrees, vegetables and fruits on grape days were higher than on non-grape days.
On grape days, the children consumed more of the school lunch, which is an overall goal of school lunch.
“Our study shows that offering grapes in school lunches is a smart strategy that goes beyond grapes’ status as a favorite fruit to grapes having a beneficial impact on the degree to which students make healthy choices, and on their consumption of the school lunch overall,” said Dr. Peter S. Murano, co-author of the study.
It is hoped that schools across the country take note of the benefits of serving California table grapes in an effort to help encourage good eating habits for the students.
At the November 17 Grape, Nut & Tree Fruit Expo in Fresno,Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, reported a positive outlook for table grapes this year. “Production continues to expand,” said Bedwell, “and consumer acceptance of table grapes continues to expand, particularly for exported California table grapes. That’s a real positive. We’re also seeing the development of newer varieties—more proprietary brands that are very consumer friendly.”
Bedwell said topping this year’s California Fresh Fruit Association annual Board of Directors Top 10 Issues survey are water concerns, followed by food safety and labor. “These are relatively consistent,” Bedwell said, “but we have seen some changes. Since last year, water, of course, has gone to the top of the list. Our members expressed concerns beyond the drought that encompass what future water system will allow proper conjunctive use of water—both surface water and groundwater.”
“We’ve also seen increased concern over food safety. And even though grapes are permanent crops with, I think, a low risk profile, we always have to be very concerned about food safety.
Then we have to look at the labor situation—not only the cost of labor—but also the availability. So, even though it has been stalled, the need for immigration reform is critically important. We will probably be in a defensive position in the next couple of years, compounded by increasing labor costs due to some well-intended, but I think misguided, efforts to increase wages around the state unnecessarily.”
In 2015, the California Fresh Fruit Association survey identified the following issues as top priorities:
Water Supply/Drought Related Issues (#3 in 2014)
Food Safety (#9 in 2014)
Immigration reform (#1 in 2014)
Health Care Mandates/Affordable Care Act (#4 in 2014)
Labor Laws and Regulations (#2 in 2014)
Labor Costs/Minimum Wage Increase Impacts (#5 in 2014)
Groundwater Management Requirements (N/L in 2014)
Water Quality Regulations (Nitrogen, Salts, etc.) (#7 in 2014)