California’s 2014 raisin grape crop was expected to be off the vines and lying on drying trays before Sept. 20. That’s the deadline for growers to have them on the ground to qualify for insurance should rain damage the grapes before they are picked up and put into bins.
Just about all of the U.S. raisin supply is produced in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties.
With temperatures topping the 100-degree mark for several days during the first part of September, the weather has been ideal for drying the grapes, notes Steve Spate, grower representative for the Raisin Bargaining Association, based in Fresno, Calif.
The favorable harvest weather, however, hasn’t been enough to offset the disappointment of an unexpectedly small crop.
“Growers were anticipating production would be down, some, this year as the vines recovered from the large 2013 crop,” Spate says. “But, yields have been off anywhere from 10 percent to as much as 50 percent in some cases. Production levels this year could fall about 20 percent short of last year.”
That puts the projected size of the 2014 raisin crop – made mostly from Thompson Seedless grapes – at about 300,000 tons, he notes. Last season, California growers delivered around 360,000 tons of raisins to processors.
The 2014 California Raisin Grape Objective Measurement Report, released Aug. 12, 2014, forecast that the state’s growers would produce 1.95 million tons of raisin-type grapes. That’s down 13 percent from the 2013 final production and includes grapes harvested for juice and wine, as well as for raisins.
Growers are attributing the drop in raisin production this year to the continuing drought, which reduced the amount of surface water many growers received for irrigating their vineyards, and the fewer clusters the vines produced this season.
The Aug. 12 USDA-NASS report included a count of 36.5 bunches per vine. That compares to last year’s record bunch count of 47.7
“We believe a freeze in early December damaged the dormant vines,” Spate says.
“Because they were so dry when that first frost hit, the vines may have been more susceptible to freeze injury. We’re speculating that growers who did not irrigate adequately last fall and early spring this year led to the smaller number of clusters on the vines.”
Most growers have yet to have their boxes of raisins inspected for quality. Spate is expecting the reports to be positive.
“The sugar was a pretty good level when most of the grapes were picked,” he says. “So, the quality this year should be fairly good. However, the quality of the earlier-picked grapes may not be as high as those picked later, which have more time to hang on the vine, allowing quality to improve.”