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 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.