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No one saluting $125 Thompson trial balloon

Early tonnage reports from this year’s California grape crush indicate a short Thompson seedless and white variety wine grape crop may be getting shorter.

Harvest reports from both Kern and Fresno counties indicate a lighter than expected crop. Early Thompson vineyards expected to come in at 8 tons were coming in at 7.5 tons. “Normal” is about 10 tons, but this crop is expected to be one of the shortest in many years.

The heat wave in early July delayed berry sizing, reducing the crop weight, but the smaller berries will add intensity to the flavor. According to the USDA/NASS California field office, the yields in red grape varieties appeared to be about average, but were lighter than normal among white varieties.

Overall, NASS did not change its August crop forecast from July when it estimated the wine-type variety crop at 3.2 million tons, down 16 percent from the record 2005 crush.

Table grape production is expected to total 790,000 tons, up 5 percent from the July forecast, but down 9 percent from last year. The California raisin-type variety grape forecast is 2.05 million tons, unchanged from the July forecast, but down 11 percent from 2005. However, many industry experts believe the crop could be off far more than that.

The $125 per ton price E&J Gallo has hoisted up the flagpole for non-contract Thompson seedless grapes this season is apparently getting few salutes from grape growers, according to industry sources.

However, it was noticed by one of the valley’s biggest raisin packers. Ernie Bedrosian of National Raisin in Fowler, Calif., who set a minimum for what it will pay for raisins, $1,210 per ton, to dissuade any Thompson growers from considering taking the green price. This raisin price is the green equivalent of about $170 per ton green. And that factors in the added harvesting costs of $50 per turn for turning 4.5 tons of green grapes into one ton of raisins.

Bedrosian said he would sweeten the offer by $50 per ton for specific raisin moisture levels and $15 per ton for raisins screened that have les than 4 pounds of sand per bin upon delivery.

Bedrosian made his offer because he says there is a worldwide market for California raisins of from 300,000 tons to 315,000 tons of raisins with an industry crop this year of from 230,000 tons to 280,000 tons. The industry is expected to make up demand short with about 50,000 tons of reserve.

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