After weeks of negotiations, California raisin growers and the industry’s packers have agreed on a price for the 2014 crop: $1,775 a ton, an increase of 7.5% over the previous year.
Raisin Bargaining Association officials were pushing for a higher price, given that the size of this year’s crop is expected to be smaller. Some farmers have estimated the state’s raisin crop may be off by 10% to 40%. But working against them was a bumper raisin crop from their chief foreign competitor, Turkey.
“The RBA Board of Directors made a difficult decision to compromise at the $1,775 per ton price to give our packers as much opportunity to turn around a very weak export market condition that is being driven by a large and questionable quality Turkish sultana crop harvested this year,” said Glen Goto, president of the RBA.
Several raisin farmers said Tuesday that they were somewhat satisified with the price that at least was more than the $1,650 a ton growers received last year.
“A lot of us were shooting for $1,850, but we think the price is a good compromise,” said Michael Kazarian, who farms in the Fowler area. “It could have been a lot less.”
Although the raisin packers and the Raisin Bargaining Association negotiate a price for the crop every year, this year the two sides struggled to come to agreement. To add pressure to the packers, the bargaining association urged all growers to withhold delivering their raisins until a price was set. The tactic, however, didn’t have as strong an impact as the association wanted.
Many independent growers, or those not belonging to the association, delivered their raisins to the packing houses. The RBA represents about one third of the industry’s growers. The other two-thirds of the industry is made up of independent packers and Sun-Maid Growers, a raisin cooperative.
“Without a unified grower group, the guys delivering to the packers undermined our efforts to get a higher price,” Kazarian said.
Raisin grower Harvey Singh said that while he too, was hoping for a higher price, he at least hopes that the price gets buyers interested in this year’s crop. And he doubts that the price will stop growers from leaving the industry to farm higher-value crops.
Singh, whose family has been farming raisins for 45 years, said he too will replant a portion of his raisin ranch with almonds and citrus. His raisin acres in Fowler will remain.
“We make good raisins in Fowler and we will continue that,” Singh said. “But it is time to diversify, there are other crops out there that are also making money, like nuts and citrus.”
As part of the price agreement with the raisin industry packers, growers will be paid in three installments as they were last year.