Unable to reach an industrywide agreement with packinghouses, the Yuba City-based California Prune Bargaining Association has issued price guidelines for the 2010-11 crop.

The association began negotiating with packers prior to the August harvest, said Greg Thompson, general manager.

“We try to get industrywide agreement, but because of a supply imbalance, it just hasn’t been possible the past couple of years,” he said.

The minimum per-ton price recommendations posted on the association’s website, www.prunebargaining.com, range from $1,400 for the largest standard French prunes down to $300 for the smallest fruit.

“We have talked with most of the packers, and we have an idea where things should end up,” Thompson said. “So we’re comfortable putting out a price schedule that we think represents the market.”

The price schedule reflects approximately the prices growers received for the 2009-10 crop, he said.

What has become a difficult hurdle for growers and packinghouses is a 10% tariff the European Union has placed on the California fruit, Thompson said.

“Europe is our biggest export market,” he said. “Nearly half of our crop is exported.”

Another factoring gnawing at the California growers is that the E.U. granted Chile, another major prune producer, free trade agreement in return for giving the Europeans fishing rights off the Chilean coast, Thompson said. Adding to the instability, he said, was the suspension of a federal marketing order for prunes that leaves the industry with limited tools to address supply imbalance.