In this installment of the ‘Agronometrics In Charts’ series, Sarah Ilyas studies the state of the California grape season. Each week the series looks at a different horticultural commodity, focusing on a specific origin or topic visualizing the market factors that are driving change.
Tropical Storm Hilary ripped across Southern and Central California during peak harvest time for table grapes. As California produces 99% of the table grapes grown across the nation, experts warn of shortages and price hikes. “This is a devastating, devastating impact on the industry as a whole,” says Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “So it is a big significant hit to the industry, to all the rural communities that are supported by grape growing, to the individual companies, to the farmworker community. It’s a big economic hit.”
Preliminary estimates suggest a loss of approximately 25 million boxes of California table grapes due to Hurricane Hilary’s unwelcome arrival on Sunday, August 20th, right in the midst of the harvest season. However, some industry insiders, including Nick Dulcich of Pretty Lady Vineyards, believe that the reported figure may be a conservative estimate. Dulcich expressed his concerns, stating, “From what I see around here, I think it’s at least a 40 million-box loss, but it could be 50 million out of the initially projected harvest of 96.9 million boxes.”
“That Sunday, it rained from 10:00 am in the morning until midnight and a key grape growing region like Maricopa took a lot of rain,” Dulcich claimed. In total, an estimated two to three inches of rain fell during the heart of the harvest season, wreaking havoc on the crops.
The devastation is palpable, with Dulcich lamenting, “I can’t harvest on at least 800 acres; they are just gone.”
The early grape cultivars including Sugar Drop, Sugraone, and Flame, had already concluded their harvesting phase. Unfortunately, the inclement weather manifested just prior to the initiation of the harvest for grape varieties such as Krissy, Green Emerald, and Scarlet Royal, causing substantial damage. Significant challenges have arisen, including a pronounced prevalence of split grapes among varieties nearing harvest; many grapes have been rotting and yields are expected to be reduced. Simultaneously, the market prices have surged to almost $30.40 per package.
Some cities saw over a year’s worth of rain accompanied by winds gusting over 80 mph. The excess rain also created humidity, which compounded problems and loss. Summer is usually the dry season for the Central Valley of California, which produces a quarter of the nation’s food. A summer storm of such magnitude is very rare in California. “This amount of rainfall, it’s an event that probably happens once every 40 years,” Dulcich said. Even before the storm’s arrival, Dulcich noted that this year’s climate deviated from the norm. He remarked on the unusual humidity, attributed in part to the heavy precipitation in California during the preceding winter, which replenished lakes and reservoirs. However, this increased humidity poses a challenge for grape cultivation, as it can foster mold and mildew, adversely impacting grape quality.
Dulcich further predicts a progressive increase in market prices, particularly within the red grape variety, which is projected to rise to $40 per box within the span of three weeks. The green grape market is expected to follow a similar pricing trajectory, reaching $40 per box by late October.
In our ‘In Charts’ series, we work to tell some of the stories that are moving the industry. Feel free to take a look at the other articles by clicking here.
All pricing for domestic US produce represents the spot market at Shipping Point (i.e. packing house/climate controlled warehouse, etc.). For imported fruit, the pricing data represents the spot market at Port of Entry.
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Written by: Sarah Ilyas