By Tim Hearden
SACRAMENTO -- With the raisin harvest under way in California's San Joaquin Valley, a government agency here predicts a record crop.
The commodity is expected to rebound from last year's light crop with a seasonal load of 2.4 million tons of raisin-type grapes, as a survey found a record 47.7 bunches per vine compared to 29.1 in 2012, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento.
The Golden State's raisin grape crop is shaping up to be at least the largest since 2008, as weather conditions have been good for crop development and the harvest is coming a few days ahead of normal, NASS reports.
Some growers think the government's prediction is a bit optimistic, though, because fierce summer heat and a lack of surface water could diminish the crop, said Glen Goto, chief executive officer of the Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association.
"Surface water is very limited, which is what many in our industry rely on to irrigate their crops," Goto said. "A lot of them either skipped an irrigation or were pumping out of the underground supply ※ With the heat and the inability to put on water during hot spells, there's been a considerable amount of wilt out in the fields this year."
The government's forecast comes as Zante Currant and Fiesta grapes were laid out for drying last week in the San Joaquin Valley, according to NASS. Most expect this year's crop to be larger than last year's, when 29.1 million tons of raisin-type grapes were produced -- a 14-year low.
Many factors contributed to last year's reduced yield, including some frost and hail during the growing season and the fact that the vines were resting after producing good-size crops in the previous two years, Goto has explained.
NASS' forecast was based on data that was collected in a survey of 328 raisin-type variety vineyards over the first three weeks in July, the agency explained. About 200,000 acres of bearing-age grapes are in production, NASS reports.
Not all of the raisin-variety grapes will be dried into raisins, however. Some will be crushed for blending into wine, notes the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Raisin grapes are drying as California's winegrape harvest is off to an early start. The harvest of Sauvignon Blanc grapes has begun in the Napa Valley, while the Chardonnay harvest is expected to begin soon, according to NASS' most recent crop weather report.
Farmers throughout the state have reported their crops have been maturing at least a week ahead of a typical schedule, the state Farm Bureau reports. Winegrape growers also worry about the availability of water and about being able to hire enough workers to pick their grapes when harvest peaks, according to CFBF.
2013 California Raisin Grape Objective Measurement Report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201308rgrpom.pdf
California Crop Weather: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/