The San Joaquin Valley table grape harvest is off to a promising start.
“We’re only about 10 percent into our deal, but so far, so good,” says John Pandol, director of special projects for grower-shipper Pandol Brothers, Delano, Calif. The harvest will continue through November with sales of the fresh fruit extending into January.
Grape quality has been good, and yields – a little better than average – are meeting earlier expectations, Pandol reports.
The season is shaping up to be as least as big as last year when the industry shipped a little over a 100 million boxes.
“It’s still a long time until we’re finished around Thanksgiving,” Pandol says. “But, right now, the 2013 crop is on track to ship another 100- million-plus boxes. We’re looking at a potential record crop.”
Pandol started this season’s harvest with Flame Seedless June 27, ahead of last year’s July 2 start. “That five-day difference may not seem like much but add that onto our 20-week season, and it represents five percent more time in the market. That’s huge.”
Pandol is now packing Flame Seedless, Thompson seedless and Princess Seedless and are moving to Sweet Celebration and Summer Royal varieties.
Restricted surface water deliveries of this year have not impacted most growers, according to Pandol. However, he estimates a few Pandol growers,--less than five percent—have water issues. Some don’t have access to additional supplies and may have trouble finishing the crop, he says.
Most growers are able to retain a fairly stable work force to pick grapes because of the extended season, he notes. That’s in contrast to other crops like stone fruit and raisin grapes, where a high demand for harvest labor is concentrated into just two or three weeks.
Growers are receiving less for their table grapes this year than year. Pandol attributes that to more competition for space in the produce aisles. Last year fruit production from California and many other areas of the country was limited by adverse weather. This year, supplies are back up to more normal levels. The exceptional quality of last year’s California table grapes, also helped boost demand and prices for the 2012 grapes, he adds.
“Last year, the demand for California table grapes was fantastic,” Pandol says. “In the third and fourth quarters of 2012, many supermarkets reported comparable store increases in the high single digits for pounds of grapes sold and double-digit increases in sales volume of these grapes compared to the previous year.”
Sales this season depends on consumer choices this fall. That’s when the bulk of the crop is sold, Pandol points out.
Currently, red grapes represent about half of U.S. table grapes sales, he reports. White grapes make up a little less than half and black grapes account for the rest.
“The industry is underserving the market for white grapes.” Pandol says. “But, most of the white grape varieties introduced up to now have been disappointing in terms of yields and shelf life. However, newer varieties, like Autumn King, are beginning to change that.”
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