If weather conditions continue in the San Joaquin Valley as they did during bud break in mid-March, this season’s table grape crop could be similar in size and quality to last year’s, growers, packers and marketers say.

In late March, signs showed the San Joaquin Valley crop actually was a few days ahead of last year.

“This is one of the most even bud breaks we’ve seen in years,” said George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Kingsburg, Calif.-based Visalia Produce Sales Inc. “We’ve had some ideal temperatures from bud break until now, so it’s been great.”

Barring unforeseen weather between late March and harvest, even bud breaks typically equate to even maturation of the crop.

Rick Paul, sales executive director for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC, had a similar assessment.

“I think things are looking good,” he said in late March. “We’ve done some bunch counts, and the crop looks normal.”

In late March, Chance Kirk, director of retail and foodservice sales for Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc., Richgrove, Calif., said the crop appears two to three weeks ahead of last year on the early varieties, such flames.

If the schedule holds true, he said harvest out of the Arvin area — typically the first region in the San Joaquin Valley — could begin as early as the latter part of June.

“It has every resemblance that if it continues, this is perfect cherry and grape growing weather, so this year we could be on time for the first time in three or four years,” Kirk said.

John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., also predicts a full crop, beginning in the early areas in late June.

“And we hope we can repeat the success of last year, which was an extraordinary season for quality,” he said.

Last season, the industry shipped a record 101.5 million boxes, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.

With additional acreage coming on, Matoian said the industry should expect another large crop.

Retailers jumped on board last year with strong promotions throughout the season, helping to move the record number of boxes.

With some quality issues surrounding this season’s Chilean table grape crop, Matoian said he expects retailers will be anxious to switch to California grapes.

The Coachella Valley crop should start in mid-May, and based on current conditions, Paul said he doesn’t foresee a gap between the end of the Coachella deal and the start of the San Joaquin Valley deal.

Having an uninterrupted flow of grapes allows for continuous retail promotions, he said.