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GL0613-tim-hearden-grapes_BT_Edits.JPG Tim Hearden
The California Table Grape Commission plans to use trade mitigation funds to develop several key export markets.

Table grape industry seeks to offset tariff hit

California Table Grape Commission has been awarded nearly $2.9 million to help mitigate tariff price damage.

It can be pretty frustrating to grow grapes if you have limited markets in which to sell them, so it’s good news for growers that the California Table Grape Commission has been awarded nearly $2.9 million in funding to help mitigate damage done to U.S. agricultural products by tariffs imposed by several countries.

The allocation earlier this year from the USDA Agricultural Trade Promotion program is part of a $200 million package with 17 recipients in California where the Grapes from California group ranked third in dollars allocated.

“A 53 percent tariff imposed on California grapes by China made our 2018 season a difficult one for growers,” said commission president Kathleen Nave. “USDA data indicates shipments to China (the third largest volume market for California table grapes) were down more than 50 percent and exports to other Asian markets were down as well.

“Additionally, domestic market sales were hurt because competing commodities also lost sales in China due to the tariffs and because of that, needed to sell their fruit domestically. Reflecting on how 2018 closed out - it was a very, very difficult year.”

The recently-issued 2018 California Grape Crush report contained a line or two about table grape production as part of a record harvest in the Lodi region (Crush District 1) indicating average price of $192.01 per ton, up 7.6 percent from the previous year. Tons of crushed table type varieties came in at 142.39, an increase of 8 percent over 2017.

“In 2018, 49 percent of the box units were red table, 40 percent green, and 10 percent black. The remainder were bi-color, mixed, or experimental varieties,” according to the commission’s Jeff Cardinale. “California table grapes were exported to 59 countries around the world with Canada and Mexico being the top two export markets.”

To put a comparison on these numbers, during the 2017 season, the more than 450 table grape farms in California harvested over 109 million boxes at a crop value of $1.81 billion.

New year, clean slate

The new year means a clean slate for the growers who produce over 99 percent of grapes commercially grown in the United States.

“The California table grape season traditionally begins in May and runs through January 2020 and we’re right on target with a mid-May start this year in the Coachella Valley before moving on to the San Joaquin Valley by late June or early July,” Nave says, adding early prognostications, “The initial 2019 estimate comes in at about 116.2 million boxes of 19 pounds, slightly lower than last year’s estimate.”

With the market in flux, the commission plans to use the USDA-allocated funds to increase promotion activities in key export markets. “Our focus this year will be on regaining market share in the export sector,” says Nave.

“Domestically, most of the allotted funds will be used for consumer advertising.  While it’s part of our mission to increase worldwide demand for fresh California grapes, the commission doesn’t usually have available monies to spend on export market promotion.”

The 2019 promotional campaign is an extraordinary effort by the commission.

“This effort is the largest of its kind the commission has ever fielded with more consumer advertising and retail promotion options in the U.S., Canada, and in targeted export markets than we’ve ever done before,” Nave says.

According to Cardinale, “Our first message is usage, that California grapes are the perfect snack right off the bunch. Our growing conditions are ideal and our product is healthy.”

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

TAGS: Trade
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