The price of fuel is down, yes. But most Coachella, Calif. grape grower-shippers don’t think it’s down far enough to make up for the higher costs of other inputs.

“Fertilizer prices are surprisingly high, and I’m a little disappointed that prices on boxes and other things haven’t dropped,” said Blake Larson, partner in Blake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif.

John Burton, sales manager for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, agreed.

“Our cost of business is going up,” he said. “We spend more and more on food safety, the price of cardboard is up and our minimum wage is high. It’s more costly to produce a box of grapes than ever before.”

Growers are getting the same price for grapes they got 30 years ago, said Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of Coachella-based East-West Unlimited.

Input costs, alas, have not stayed the same, he said.

“Everything’s pretty much the same, and it’s hard to pass anything along,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of decrease (in input costs). I wish we would.”

Tony Bianco, president of Coachella-based Desert Fresh Inc., had a more optimistic take.

“Diesel’s down to almost half of what it was last year at this time, and fertilizer and other prices that had gone through the roof seem to be coming down a little bit,” he said.

Labor, so often an issue for California fruit and vegetable growers, won’t be one this year for Coachella Valley grape growers, thanks to the recession.

Drake Larson, partner in Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, doesn’t foresee a labor problem this spring and summer in the Coachella Valley. Even in a recession – or in this case, because of a recession – there’s good news, Larson said.

“There’s always a silver lining with a black cloud,” he said.

The black cloud of unemployment in California, whose construction industry has been hit harder than most states, is all too real, said John Burton, sales manager for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella.

Burton doesn’t have to read the paper or watch TV to know that.

“My window faces the parking lot, and every day 6 to 12 people come in looking for work,” he said.