Grapes start to color up in the Coachella Valley in early May. ( Ashley Nickle )

Many California table grape grower-shippers missed out on Fourth of July promotions, but everyone across the industry seems to think they’ll have ample reason to celebrate as the summer unfolds.

Growers in California’s Coachella region struggled to ramp up production in time for Memorial Day, and most growers farther north didn’t expect to get theirs going until the first week of July.

“The development of the crop is a little slower than normal,” said John Harley, sales manager with Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards.

According to Robinson Fresh’s May 29 Freshspective report, Mexican and Coachella grape inventories had tightened, with nearly all growers selling out each day.

Year-over-year, both regions remained down significantly in terms of volume that had been harvested year-to-date, and market pricing was “more firm than we typically see by this time of the season,” the report noted.

As of June 11, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 18-pound containers of bagged large and extra-large flame seedless grapes from the Coachella Valley were $28.95. A year earlier, the same product was $18.95.

Anthony was scheduled to start shipping out of Arvin, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, by late June.

Others were looking to get going in that district around the same time.

“It’s coming along nicely,” said Justin Bedwell, president of Madera, Calif.-based Bari Produce LLC. “I think everybody is pretty happy.”

The first promotable volumes weren’t likely to come in until after the Fourth of July, however, according to some growers.

That’s about normal, although it’s a few days later than last year’s July 1 start, and perhaps a week later than each of the four or five years before that, said Keith Andrew, sales manager for Delano, Calif.-based Columbine Orchards.

“Cool weather has delayed things — it’s actually good for the grapes,” he said. “Everything has been behind last year from three to seven days.”

Getting a crop going in time for Fourth of July promotions would have been nice, but it doesn’t happen often, Andrew said.

“You always like to have the Fourth pulled, but to have it you have to come off the last week of June,” he said.

Growers hesitated to provide precise volume estimates for this year’s California crop, but they generally agreed that it was shaping up to be a normal year.

Statewide grape volume in 2017 was 109 million box units, worth $1.81 billion, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.

“We are very optimistic on the quality of this year’s crop, if the start of the California tree fruit crop is any indicator, which we’re very involved in also,” said Steve Kenfield, vice president of value-added for Kingsburg, Calif.-based HMC Farms.

Cool weather had slowed down fruit development by late May, although there still was plenty of time for a rebound, said Jeff Olsen, president of the Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co.

“Sounds like it should be a normal crop — I’d imagine it would be a little late, but we’re starting to get some heat units,” he said.

Sean Stockton, president of Tulare, Calif.-based Sundale Vineyards, said he anticipates a solid crop.

“Shatter, bloom — everything is projecting to be a fair amount of fruit,” he said.

California’s Central Valley is expected to be moving heavy volumes of grapes after July 1, Stockton said.

Quality looked good, said Danielle Loustalot, marketing manager with Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC.

“The San Joaquin Valley crop looks good today from a fruit set and volume standpoint,” she said.

Quality takes priority over start dates, said Brett Dixon, president and sales manager with Bakersfield-based Top Brass Marketing Inc.

“The quality, taste and size need to be there before we begin harvesting,” he said.

Kingsburg, Calif.-based Visalia Produce Sales Inc. was looking at a start date of about July 8-10.

“Hopefully, we should enter the season with the inventories being clean in Coachella and Mexico, and their crop is short, so the market should be empty,” said George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Visalia Produce Sales.

“So far, the crops on all varieties look very good. This should be a better year.”

 
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