(June 6) San Joaquin Valley table grape growers say weather has been cooperative for grape-growing this spring, and the result will be excellent quality and promotable supplies for mid-summer through fall.

Growers say mostly mild May temperatures and a good grape set have the crop off to a good start. Production of the green seedless perlette grape and red seedless flame begin during early June in the Arvin area of the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Most production in the Delano-Visalia-Fresno area will begin in late June and early July with thompson seedless ready for harvest starting about July 4. Shippers report the valley crop should be right on schedule.

“The fruit looks great,” said Tony Fazio, president of Fazio Marketing Inc., Fresno. Fazio said his first grapes to be harvested will be flame seedless, black seedless and thompson seedless.

“The reports are that quality will be good in the valley,” said Kirk Peterson, salesman for DG Forry Co. Inc., Reedley, Calif. “We look for a great season. The bud break was fairly normal, and the quality looks great.”

Nick Bikakos, salesman for Castle Rock Sales, Delano, Calif., said he agreed. “We expect the best quality we’ve had,” he said.

Growers say that in addition to a good-looking crop, they could see some fairly high prices in the early season. The Mexican season started early this year and should be complete when San Joaquin Valley supplies kick in.

Growers expect a gap between the Coachella Valley desert grape crop and the start of the San Joaquin Valley crop in Arvin. If a gap occurs, market demand could be fairly strong from about the last week of June through the first week of July.

As of June 5, perlette grapes out of Coachella, Calif., sold for $12 to $14 f.o.b. for 19-pound lugs, according to the Federal-State Market News Service. Flame seedless out of Coachella sold for $14 to $16 f.o.b. on the same day.

The positive crop outlook for this season is in contrast to a problem with last year’s production in which unusually hot May weather led to quality problems for many of the popular grape varieties. In addition, heavy supplies caused by an overlap of the Mexican and San Joaquin Valley seasons, and slow movement resulted in low f.o.b. prices.

“It was a challenging year,” said Mark Givins, vice president of sales and marketing for Kings Canyon Corrin LLC, Reedley, Calif.

This year supplies are expected to be more predictable and manageable.

“The amount of fruit will be adequate,” said Mila Caratan, a principal at Columbine Vineyards, Delano, Calif. “The temperature has been good. Last year we hit 105 in May. We had a better bloom this year.”

Caratan added, “It will not be a bumper crop, but bigger than last year.”

Supplies should be just right for promotions, he said.

The California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, Calif., estimates that California growers will ship 88 million 19-pound cartons of grapes this year. That compares to 82.1 million 19-pound cartons shipped in 2001, said Jim Howard, director of communications for the California Table Grape Commission.

Jim Pandol, vice president of marketing for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, said he agreed that this year’s crop will be a little larger and better looking than last year’s. “We have had good weather so far,” Pandol said. “For sizing, you don’t want it too hot.”

“We see nice sizes this year,” said Greg Irby, grape logistics manager for New Leaf Tree Fruit, Traver, Calif.

Color of the grapes should also be better this year, Irby said. “We had 19 days of 100-degree-or-higher heat last year. The reds struggled on color.

Greens also had a tough time last year and growers hope for a better thompson seedless season for 2002. And they hope for double-digit prices.

On July 5, 2001, thompson grapes and flame seedless sold for about $8.85 to $10 f.o.b. per 19-pound lug, according to the Federal-State Market news Service, Fresno, Calif. In early and mid-August of 2001, thompson grapes sold for $9.85 to $11.85 f.o.b. per 19-pound lug, the same for flames.

The fantasy seedless grape commanded a little higher price at $11.85 to $13.85 f.o.b. per 19-pound lug Aug. 1.

Fantasy seedless, which was nearing the end of its season Aug. 15, 2001, sold for $10.85 to $12.85 f.o.b. per 19-pound lug. Red globe grapes sold for $10.85 to $11.85 f.o.b. per 19-pound lug Aug. 15 of last year.

Condition of the crop is important in moving product and growers do not foresee quality problems that made sales more difficult last year. Good quality is expected right from the start.

Growers continue to plant more red grape varieties, especially for the late season when the green thompson seedless grape production winds down.

Thompson grape acreage is holding about steady and growers expect good yields for the popular green seedless grape this year.

In 2001, when quality problems developed for the thompson variety consumers turned more to the red varieties like red crimson.

Red crimson seedless grapes are a late variety with the Central Valley harvest starting in mid-to-late September. Although production is up, so is demand for red crimson grapes.

Growers are trying to go a little later with green grapes and some will use a fairly new variety called “princess” to go a little later into the fall. They also will plant more autumn royal, a black variety, Pandol said.

Looking to the early season, growers expect a good start with plenty of grapes available for the 4th of July holiday.

Cooler-than-normal weather in the early spring led to some concern that grape harvests might be delayed by five days to a week this summer. But after an unusual spring storm May 20, warmer days returned and that stimulated growth of the grape bunches.

California bearing table grape acreage reached 88,000 acres in 2001, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service. Growers expect the figure to hold fairly steady despite an expected increase in red grapes this season.