It takes a special breed to be a grower. What with the fluctuations in f.o.b.s, paying sky-high prices for fertilizers and crop-protection chemicals and an often uncertain labor pool, gray hair can come early in life.
Then there’s fickle Mother Nature.
A too-short dormancy period, lack of rain, a freeze — all of them can spell disaster before the season begins.
It is the end of the season, however, that concerns California raisin growers.
The first week or so of October was a rollercoaster for them. With about 15% of the crop still drying on paper trays in the vineyards, the month was just two days old when rain hit the central San Joaquin Valley, the epicenter of this country’s raisin production.
Temperatures stayed low, but wind helped the drying.
The picture brightened considerably by mid-month. Growers and packers agreed on a near-record price for the dried grapes — right at $1,500 a ton. That’s the highest price in a couple of decades.
As recently as 2002, the per-ton price paid to growers was about $750.
The reserve from last season, another ingredient in the raisin price formula, is at its lowest level in 30 years.
Then there’s the production dip in other raisin-growing countries.
Expect higher prices
The fallout for retail, foodservice and their consumers will be higher prices.
The reason is that supply and demand have equalized, said Gary Schulz, president of the Raisin Administrative Committee, Fresno.
After years of overproduction, thousands of acres of California vineyards have been pulled and replaced by other commodities — or housing developments — or converted to table grapes.
The committee’s 2010 forecast is 293,000 tons, down a big chunk from the 400,000 produced eight years ago.
Exports a factor
Helping the demand side of the scale is foreign buyers who are particularly fond of California raisins.
Exports now gobble up nearly half of the average year’s volume.
Domestic buyers will have to open the purse strings a bit to stay in the bidding.
At last check, about 80,000 tons of 2009 raisins were still in reserve.
Placing orders well before the holiday crush could mean capitalizing on last year’s lower prices.