Growers and officials are unsure what effect moving up the date by which Chilean exporters must stop shipping grapes not graded U.S. No. 1 will have on the Coachella Valley deal.
April 10 is the new date, ten days earlier than in the past.
Even with the new date, the question of whether Coachella, Calif., growers can avoid a repeat of last year is largely out of their control, said Drake Larson, partner in Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif.
“I’d like to think it will be better than the absolute, unmitigated disaster we had last year, but unfortunately, Chilean shippers are the ones who get to call that,” he said. “I threw my crystal ball out the second year I started selling produce.”
Tony Bianco, president of Coachella-based Desert Fresh Inc., is similarly unwilling to make a prediction one way or the other whether the new date will help Coachella growers.
“That’s the million dollar question,” he said.
Green varieties grown in Coachella are more likely than reds to succeed early in the deal, thanks to the likelihood that the Chilean green deal should be about done when early valley varieties begin shipping, Bianco said.
Reds, however, are another story, he said.
John Burton, sales manager for Coachella-based Peter Rabbit Farms, is simultaneously hopeful and wary.
“I’m in the farming business, so I’m eternally optimistic about everything,” he said. “I think it’s (the new date) a move in the right direction. I’m a little concerned about what I’m hearing about grapes that are in transit from Chile. If they’re not high-quality, they will sit on shelves and could dampen enthusiasm (for Coachella grapes).”
The new date won’t have much effect on Chilean shipments, predicted Rick Paul, table grape product manager for Coachella-based Sun World International LLC.
“If they have no trouble making April 20, they won’t have a problem making April 10,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s helpful in terms of volume. They have more product here sooner instead of in cold storage in Chile.”
Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of East West Unlimited, Coachella, was more optimistic.
“It should help us,” he said. “A lot of times they have late rains and have trouble making inspections.”
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno, is glad exporters reached a deal before any serious friction was created.
The league did not take a position on the issue during negotiations, Bedwell said.
“I think it’s more realistic,” Bedwell said of the April 10 date. “It’s a reasonable conclusion to what could have been a contentious issue.”