(June 9) DELANO, Calif. — California grape shippers, particularly those with acreage in the Arvin area, are gearing up for Fourth of July promotions thanks to higher spring temperatures that will step up harvest by at least 10 days.

Shipments from Arvin will begin the third week in June, and vineyards from Delano to Madera will be ready for harvest the first week of July.

Although this gives shippers a longer season to sell their grapes, it means more competition with Coachella grapes in the early deal, reversing a trend over the past two years. For the most part, however, shippers welcome an earlier start.

“It looks like this will be the earliest start in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales for Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield.“A general rule on an early start is that it is good news.”

“There’s always the fear of the overlap with the desert districts, but a certain number of customers will be ready to start buying from the San Joaquin Valley,” said Chris Caratan, vice president of Columbine Vineyards, Delano.

Complicating the overlap will be Mexican imports, which suffered early frosts and a sluggish start but will have increased production on the late end.

Last year, Mexican imports from Sonora lasted through mid-July. Although shipments from Mexico were beginning to reach normal rates by the first week of June, the season’s totals were far behind last year’s, with 98.2 million pounds shipped by June 5, compared to 169.4 million pounds shipped at the same time last year.

On June 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 18-pound lugs of bagged medium-large perlettes from Mexico were $10.85, large flame seedless were $12.85 and medium-large flame seedless were $9.85-10.85.

From Coachella, large flame seedless were $12.85-13.85, and black beauty seedless were $16.85-17.85. There were too few remaining perlettes to establish a market and thompson seedless will be ready for harvest the week of June 12, the USDA reported.

The California Table Grape Commission estimates this year’s crop to be 85 million 19-pound boxes of grapes, compared to 77.8 million boxes shipped in 2003. Two years ago, a banner crop produced 95 million 19-pound boxes. The Coachella and Mexico prices are based on the 18-pound units, as specified in Coachella’s federal marketing order; the USDA and grape commission use a 19-pound standard for the Kern and San Joaquin Valley districts.

High July and August temperatures beset last year’s crop, originally estimated at 93.7 million boxes. The final production was 77.8 million boxes, for a value of $871 million, according to the commission.

Shippers are seeing fewer grapes on the vine, but the industry anticipates the higher packout, barring a change due to the weather.