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Table grape crop looks promising

Official estimate due July 25, but Calif. production could top 116 million boxes.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

July 10, 2019

3 Min Read
Table grape growers in California may produce as many as 116.2 million 19-pound boxes in 2019, according to an industry leader.Tim Hearden

Table grape growers in California last year produced 115.6 million 19-pound boxes - the second largest volume shipped in the industry’s history. But what about 2019?

Because of cooler weather, Mexico’s season started a couple of weeks later than usual this year, resulting in a shorter season but accompanied with optimism that growers would eventually ship 22 million cartons as the season picked up speed in June.  That would be up 25 percent from last year, according to the Mexico Table Grape Spring Summit.

Weather such as atypical late-May hail in the San Joaquin Valley also affected the California crop, prompting predictions of adequate sales volumes not being ready until mid-to-late July because of the delayed start.

Growers say they expect their harvests to start roughly a week to 10 days later than usual, with supplies from Mexico and Coachella filling store shelves until mid-July before good San Juaquin Valley production ramps up later this month. With everyone running late, a smooth seasonal transition is anticipated.

Although springtime was cool, early June temperatures suddenly reached triple digits and Central Coast radio station KSBY in San Luis Obispo reported that grapevines in the region quickly began turning a vibrant green.  One grower was quoted as saying, “We had a great rainy season, so there’s plenty of moisture in the soil.  We’re going to have vines throwing a lot more fruit with growth twice the size of recent years.”

Early reports bode well

We’ll know the impact of the unusual weather when this year’s crop estimate becomes official on July 25, but early reports bode well, according to Kathleen Nave, chief executive officer of the California Table Grape Commission.

“Although it’s common for the estimate to change between April and July because there’s a lot that can and will happen in the table grape industry over that time, the current estimate is for 116.2 million 19-pound boxes. That will exceed last year, but come in under the historical high mark that approached 117 million 19-pound boxes,” says Nave. 

So, if you can grow them all, can you sell them all?

“Generally, yes,” she says, “although last year was not a good year for the table grape industry as a whole because there was more fruit than anyone contemplated, and some was sold below where we would have liked to have sold because of the impact tariffs had on the worldwide market, export and domestic.”

For comparison, Wine-Searcher News reported that with a third 15 percent tariff levied in June on U.S. wine to China, total tariffs and taxes on America’s liquid grape products there amounted to 93 percent.

At the recent Table Grape Summit in London, the message was that the table grape supply map would have a dramatic change in the coming years with increasing tropical production and the appearance of new varieties.

“And we’ll push back as hard as we can because it’s our job to create a demand for California table grapes,” Nave promises. “As we face increased competition from any geographic region, we’re going to heavy-up.  Red, green, black, seeded, or seedless, our product is available from May through January and we fully expect to have promotable volumes of grapes through the end of December and into January 2020.

“Interestingly, grapes are as much a fall fruit as they are a summer item and the bulk of California shipments, somewhere between 60 to 65 percent, go out after September 1. Setting aside the fact that it’s not easy to grow fresh fruit, in particular, grapes, growers should feel optimistic knowing the product is increasingly in demand worldwide and we’re aggressively promoting fruit off California vines.”

For more news on pests, disease management and other issues affecting vineyards, subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter The Grape Line.

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