I don’t normally attend meetings of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

California table grape industry lunges forward

Bruce Obbink
Guest columnist

After all, I retired as president of the California Table Grape Commission some 13 years ago. But I decided to attend the 75th anniversary meeting in Palm Springs in March. There were several reasons I decided to be there.

First, during my 30 years with the Table Grape Commission I attended all the meetings of the organization.

Besides that, my wife, Judy, is the daughter of Harold Angier, who was the manager of the organization in its reorganized beginning in April 1947.

Harold Angier was a Tokay wine grape and tree fruit grower in Lodi, Calif., and active in a number of produce associations at the time. A Stanford and Davis University graduate, he managed a 1,000-acre operation in Lodi producing Tokays, plums and juice grapes. He was closely acquainted with the problems of marketing and production.

Angier was chairman of the agriculture committee of the Central Valley Council of California Chamber of Commerce and a member of the advisory committee on plums, prunes, apricots and grapes during the war years.

Since my wife has been attending Grape and Tree Fruit League meetings since she was 10 years old (that is now 64 years), I thought it would be appropriate for us to attend the 75th anniversary of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

While I sat through the anniversary celebration, workshops and general meetings I began to reflect on my time with the industry. As I listened to all the presentations and discussions I had the privilege of sitting next to my successor, Kathleen Nave.

Kathleen came to the commission in 1987. We worked together for 11 years. It was clear to me that she was the right person to replace me when I retired. I promoted her for that position.

The industry analyzed her capabilities over a two-year period and turned to her to pick up the reins of the commission and move it forward.

I think back to the position we were in during 1968, my first year on the job. We produced some 20 million boxes, and had a per capita consumption of about 1.2 pounds per person. We shipped a few grapes to Hong Kong, Canada and to Scandinavia during the winter.

That was about it.

Imports did not exist to speak of. We were in the middle of a huge political battle with the United Farm Workers.

I now pick up a recent edition of The Packer and read the headline “Table grape season in California nears 100 million cartons” (Page B3, March 14 issue).

And then I am told the per capita consumption of table grapes is 8 pounds per person. And to top that off I read that table grapes are the No. 3 item in fruit consumption in the U.S. and we export some 37 million cartons — 38% of the volume — to more than 60 countries throughout the world.

What an impressive record.

During the 1990s the commission asked the University of California-Davis Economic Department to analyze the expenditures of the industry in commodity promotion to determine the return on investment.

Their study revealed the return on investment through the California Table Grape Commission promotion activities returned $150 per $1 invested.

What an incredible success story for California producers of fresh grapes. And what a success story that is for the old economic theory that “the rising tide raises all boats.”

In my reflection back a number of years, the California table grape industry has struggled through a combination of marketing and political difficulties. But they have survived and maintained their focus on the future.

And they have at their helm a most competent and professional leader in Kathleen Nave.

For the industry to survive all their challenges, bring their production to five times greater than a starting position and at dollar returns that keep them in production and expansion, they have made the right decisions over the past 43 years.

I am most proud to have been part of this industry in my career, and most proud to have been part of my father-in-law’s industry.

The California Table Grape industry has a great future and they are fortunate to have Kathleen Nave helping them through all the difficulties that will certainly find their way into the system as time moves forward.

Bruce Obbink is former president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno.

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