Hang around California agriculture long enough and you'll witness each one of the state's more than 200 crops reach a marketing peak and tumble into a depressing price abyss because of an “oversupply.”
Look long enough and parallels are drawn.
San Joaquin Valley grape growers are grabbing newspaper headlines because they are turning sheep into wine grape vineyards and even the sheep don't want the grapes.
Raisin growers are panicking. Looks like a proposed vine pullout program will not be enough and now there's talk of leaving grapes unharvested in 2002.
However, table grape growers are having a pretty good year. Coachella Valley reported a good season with high quality. That carried over to the San Joaquin Valley.
Remember that 1-billion-pound almond crop that was going to destroy that industry and send bulldozers through orchards. Almond growers will harvest close to that this season, and there are no bulldozers in sight. The June objective crop measurement is for 980 billion pounds. I have not heard one almond grower ask that he be compensated by the government because of the record crop about to arrive at hullers.
What's the difference between table grapes and almonds and raisins and wine grapes, crops often produced literally across the road from each other and often by the same farmer?
The California almond industry through the Almond Board of California is selling itself through what promises to be over the next decade several record-breaking crop years. More than 725 million pounds have been sold from the 2001 crop and carryover with two months left in the marketing season. That is an increase of 14 percent over last year. Uncommitted inventory from last season is down 34 percent.
The California Table Grape Commission is yardstick for marketing orders and commissions. Created when the UFW had the industry on the ropes, the grower-formed commission sold its way from the brink, more than doubling consumption since its creation. It continues to set the standard for aggressive, professional marketing for which other commodities can only hope to meet.
Raisin growers wonder how they got into this mess. They killed the dancing raisins — one of the most widely recognized and successful agricultural consumer marketing efforts ever! Doesn't matter why. It was a decision from which the industry may not recover without hundreds of grower bankruptcies.
Wine grape growers, especially in the central valley, are trying to market themselves out. Central Coast wine grape growers have done a good job of gaining regional recognition. Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission has become the benchmark for what can be done on a regional basis.
However, there still needs to be a statewide California wine commission. The idea failed miserably in the 1980s, and it's probably less likely than the resurrection of the dancing raisins because of the long-standing adversarial relationship between vintners and growers.
There are no oversupplies, only untapped markets. Imagine what would happen if the California wine grape industry and raisin producers and packers had half the tenacity of the California almond industry.