Valley grape farmers take drastic steps after frustrating loss

FRESNO, Calif.

Crews in a Madera vineyard cut dried-on-the-vine raisin grapes for a final time. Grower Matt Andrew explained, "Instead of hacking off canes we're coming in here and hacking off arms."

Andrew's decision was a painful one. "It's devastating. I've played in this vineyard all my life. This vineyard was planted by my father and my grandfather," Andrew said.

Growers saw wineries offer $325 a ton last year for juice concentrate. This year Andrew was offered $235 a ton, a break-even point. Raisin prices haven't been announced yet.

"It's the frustration that we have within the industry between the raisin industry and the concentrate industry, them playing off each other and we end up feeling like we're getting squeezed in between both," Andrew said.

Andrew said other growers will also pull out their vines this year. Allied Grape Growers president Nat DiBuduo was worried about the loss of productive Valley vineyards. He said, "I think we're going to see anywhere from 15,000, maybe 20,000 acres of Thompsons pulled out after harvest this year."

DiBuduo understood the reasoning. Profitable pistachios will replace the grapes on one of Allied Grape Growers ranches, but he had a message for wineries and raisin packers. "If you want raisins and grapes to stay in the ground you're going to have to pay for them."

Matt Andrew is ready to pull out 150 acres of Thompson grapes. He is a diversified farmer with pistachios and almonds but worries about the future of smaller farms which grow only grapes.

The Valley grape industry no doubt will suffer from the loss of thousands of acres. However, the drop in supply could result in higher demand next year and a price spike for the growers who remain.

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