Ernest Bedrosian, the longtime president of Fowler, Calif.-based National Raisin Co. who led the Raisin Bargaining Association in its early years, died Jan. 1. He was 80.

From running a grape harvesting business and serving on raisin boards and committees, Bedrosian went on to partner with his brothers Krikor and Kenny, as well as Harry Rustigian, on a packing business — National Raisin — begun in 1969. They later developed the Champion brand.

He had formed the Raisin Bargaining Association in 1966 to negotiate prices with packers, and served as its first president. That effort became recognized as a breakthrough for growers.

The year before the association’s startup, growers were receiving $230 per ton on open contract. With the first RBA negotiated contracts in place, the price hit $305. Since then it’s increased more than sevenfold to about $1,650 per ton.

“My dad was a real force in the raisin industry,” said Bryan Bedrosian, ranch manager at Fowler-based Bedrosian Farms. “He served as chairman of various committees, always promoting California raisins.”

“He had many great, innovative ideas,” Bedrosian said. “I learned a great deal from him on the growing of all types of grapes, whether fresh table grapes or raisin grapes.”

National Raisin Co., which ships prunes and dried fruits as well as raisins, employs more than 500 and packs for private labels as well as its Champion label.

Ernest Bedrosian also served as Raisin Administrative Committee vice chairman and chairman at various times. His efforts on behalf of the industry earned him the nickname “Godfather.”

Besides Bryan Bedrosian, survivors include his wife, Carlotta Bedrosian; his daughter, Tammy Shegerian; his sister, Clara Bousian; brothers Krikor and Kenny Bedrosian; and grandchildren.

A funeral service was scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 11 at First Armenian Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif. Donations were earmarked for the Armenian Missionary Association of America Bedrosian Shushi Camp in Paramus, N.J.