With dwindling acreage and intense competition from other crops, Fresno County raisin farmers are negotiating what could be the highest price ever for their crop.
The Raisin Bargaining Association, a Fresno-based grower group, is offering $2,250 a ton for the 2018 crop. That’s a 25 percent increase over the previous year.
So far, four of the industry’s 12 packers have agreed to the record price.
Dwayne Cardoza, a grower and chairman of the RBA, said the price hike was necessary to help stabilize the continued decline in raisin grape acreage and to offset the rising farming costs for growers.
“We will have a short crop going into this year and our costs are escalating at a rapid pace,” said Cardoza, who farms in the Easton area. “Minimum wage is rising and not that we have a problem paying the workers, we just need to make sure we have the money to pay the workers.”
Centered in the central San Joaquin Valley, the raisin industry has been saddled with several challenges over the last few years, including a shrinking number of acres. Longtime raisin farmers have grown weary of several years of low prices and bulldozed their vineyards in favor of higher-grossing crops like almonds.
Last year, the state’s raisin grape acreage dropped to 160,000 acres from 280,000 in 2000.
Gerald Chooljian of Del Rey Packing in Del Rey is one of the four packers who has agreed to the higher price.
“A price like this gives growers a little bit more confidence and hopefully provides some financial stability in the industry,” said Chooljian, whose packing operation is 90 years old. “This might even give growers an opportunity replant an old vineyard with a newer vineyard rather than almonds.”
Chooljian, who is also a grower, plans to reinvest in his own operation with grape varieties that can be harvested mechanically and produce more grapes per acre.
“A healthy raisin industry is good for everyone from the tractor dealers to the fertilizer companies,” he said. “It goes all the way down the line.”
Doug Moles, the general manager at Sun Valley Raisins in Fresno, agrees that the raisin price is a fair one.
“There has been a lot going on in the industry and the price has to be fair for both sides, the growers and the packers,” Moles said. “And if it isn’t fair, then no one around here is going to be growing raisins anymore.”