Raisin Growers Having a Tough Year

Kalem Barserian: Raisin Production is Down

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The California raisin industry’s having a tough year on production, as well as a few rainstorms that impacted the crop.

Kalem Barserian

Kalem Barserian is CEO of the Raisin Bargaining Association in Fresno, an organization that goes to bat for growers when it comes to pricing. He noted a phenomenon that happens when it rains a lot, just ahead of Thompson seedless bud break as the vines came out of dormancy.

“For some reason, with all the rain – and I could go back 60, 70 years and show where ever there was a heavy rain year, the plants seemed to take a rest – and this was no different than what happened in 1998, when we had 20 inches of rain and we had only 7.5 grain tons, while the average green tonnage is 9.5 tons,” Barserian explained.

“The grape set was among the lowest in history, with only 27 bunches per vine. … The historical average is 39 bunches.”

“And then during the late summer, on Sept. 11 and Sept. 21, two rainstorms came through and tested the rain grower’s patience,” Barserian said. “The moisture did not cause the problem to the drying grapes. However the rain caused sand to bounce up on the trays with the grapes. The sand got into the wrinkles of the grapes and as they dried down further, it became embedded sand.”

“This is where the loss for the grower comes, because the damaged, embedded sand grapes must be reconstituted, reconditioned and cleaned up again. Ultimately, the quality is okay, but it is an additional cost to the grower,” Barserian explained.

According to Barserian, California used to account for 50 percent of the world production of raisins. Today, we are only 20 percent of the production, behind Turkey.

Many growers have traded in the raisin vineyard for other profitable crops such as almond or mandarins.

Raisin Bargaining Association Negotiations for 2015

Glen Goto: Raisin Bargaining Association Negotiations for 2015

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

In the midst of the 2015 (RBA) Raisin Bargaining Association negotiations on behalf of its members, the RBA  has reached a price agreement with one processor among 13 thus far, according to CEO Glen Goto. “It is a negotiation, so we don’t know where it will end up,” Goto said. “We also don’t know when it will end up, but we’re trying to do it as quickly as possible.”

Goto said California accounts for 30 to 35 percent of the world raisin supply. This year, Turkey, California’s largest competitor, which typically produces about the same amount, is experiencing a decreased supply due to a devastating April frost. “We are a world commodity,” Goto said. “The United States and Turkey, together, produce most of the dried grapes in the world, so we do look at Turkey as a competitor. Nevertheless, in certain markets, we may want to work together with Turkey. We are very structured with regard to our export destinations, and Europe is one of our big markets. Turkey is also very big in Europe, so our export success there varies by year and by supply situation.”

Goto is optimistic about the raisin industry despite its challenges and the loss of acreage as growers convert their vineyards to almonds, other nuts, citrus and other tree fruit crops. He explained, “Growers are doing their due diligence to determine the best economic scenario for their operations. And given other good, profitable commodities in the marketplace, more power to growers if they have the ability to convert their acreage to them.”