(June 9) With the San Joaquin Valley table grape crop expected to be down slightly, California grower-shippers said quality looked good but that strong prices were expected to continue at least until the Central Valley harvest begins in July.

On June 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported demand exceeded supply of Mexican grapes coming through Nogales, Ariz. Red globe was the only variety not to increase in price.

Eighteen-pound bags of perlettes were selling at $25-27. Large white seedless grapes were at $31-33. Large flames were $23-25, while the price for large black seedless was $25-29. For large red globes, prices were $23-25.

Demand also exceeded available supplies from California’s Coachella Valley. Lugs of large flames were selling for $22-25.

Rick Paul, table grape product manager for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., said he expects prices to remain strong through July. Prices for Coachella Valley grapes this season have been running $5-8 per box higher than they did a year ago, he said.

One reason for the higher prices is a lack of fruit. Paul said Coachella Valley growers packed 191,000 boxes by early June 2005. This year in early June, growers had packed 111,000 boxes.

The bulk of the Coachella Valley harvest will end by July 1, Paul said. Two varieties, thompson seedless and red globes, may be picked until July 15, he said.

Compounding the problem of the lighter-than-usual Coachella Valley crop is a short labor supply, said Jason Scarborough, salesman for Belmont Produce Sales, Coachella. Some growers are approaching other growers in hopes of finding more workers, he said.

Scarborough said his vineyards were packing 7,000 to 10,000 boxes daily in June 2005. The total on June 5 this year, he said, was 3,000 boxes.

The reduction was even greater in Mexico, Paul said, where 500,000 boxes were packed in the first week of June 2005 but just 227,000 at the same time this year. The packouts represent total Mexican production.

Grape prices from Mexico were about double those of a year ago.

Chuck Olsen, managing partner for The Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif., described the Mexican table grape crop as a nightmare. The 2005 Mexican crop was 17 million boxes, said Olsen, who has contract growers in the country.

The 2006 forecast was 14 million boxes, but Olsen said he would not be surprised if the Mexican crop failed to exceed 10 million boxes.

Scarborough agreed that prices would remain strong into July. He said prices for Coachella Valley flames could approach $29 by the end of June.

Dave Clyde, Bakersfield sales manager for Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Stevco Inc., said the Coachella Valley should deliver 5.5 million boxes this season, down about 10% from last season. Housing developers have driven land prices so high, Clyde said, that growers cannot afford to expand acreage.

In the San Joaquin Valley, Clyde said greens were light and that some later varieties, such as autumn royal, were very light.
Clyde agreed on the situation in Mexico.

“The big gorilla in late spring-early summer table grapes is Mexico,” Clyde said, “but this year the gorilla is in utter chaos.”