Concord grape prices should stay strong next year

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 16, 2012 

Prices for Concord juice grapes are expected to remain strong next year.

But growers and processors at the Washington State Grape Society annual meeting in Grandview on Thursday weren't encouraging Washington farmers to add acres.

Maintaining a slightly short supply is a good thing for growers and processors because it allows them to make money, said Jim Gauley, chief financial officer for FruitSmart of Grandview, a specialty fruit ingredient company.

There have been years with big crops when prices were low enough that making money wasn't possible, he said.

"We are kind of in balance on the Concord side," agreed Grandview grape farmer Tim Grow.

Washington, the nation's top grower of Concords, harvested about 173,900 tons of the juice grapes this year, said Trent Ball, agriculture department chair and viticulture and enology instructor for Yakima Valley Community College's Grandview campus.

That's up from the 156,000 tons state farmers crushed in 2011, he said. Still, the current projections are down slightly because grapes are not yielding as much juice as normal years.

However, overall quality was good, Ball said.

Washington has about 21,000 acres of Concords and another 1,600 acres of Niagara juice grapes, he said. A small amount of acres has been lost since last year.

But tonnage per acre has gone up to about 8.3 tons from about 7.6 tons last year, Ball said.

Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, other major growers of Concord grapes, were devastated by frosts this year, Ball said. Those states are expecting less than half of their normal crops.

Overall, the U.S. crop is expected to be down, with about 294,000 tons, Ball said. The price for Washington Concords is at a high of about $280 per ton. Gauley said there has been an overall shortage with juice grapes, with this year's crop being the smallest since 1977.

Argentina, which supplies the bulk of the juice grapes the U.S. imports, is in short supply, and so is California, Ball said.

"There is not a lot of extra that is out there, so we are seeing prices hold steady for everybody," he said.

The juice grape supply is expected to remain low next year as well, Ball said. That means the price likely will hold steady.

Ball said it's likely the price for Concords is nearing a peak based on past trends. There have been seven years in a row with mostly increases. In 2008, there was a small price drop.

Ball said Washington is likely to see a similar harvest in 2013.

Grow, a board member for Welch's, said grape juice now is competing with other drinks, including water.

Overall, the volume for 100 percent grape juice has shrunk, he said. But Welch's actually has seen its grape juice market increase at the expense of minor brands.

Juice prices have been relatively stable, with a 1 percent growth, Grow said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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