Washington state growers’ grape-juice harvest was just about average, but a drop in demand and high production have pushed prices very low, growers were told in a “State of the Grapes” address.
GRANDVIEW, Yakima County — The state’s juice-grape harvest came in at roughly 164,000 tons, almost right even with the five-year average, an industry consultant told growers Friday.
Prices, however, are another story.
Full warehouses across the country, three straight years of large yields nationwide and America’s declining taste for fruit juice have pushed juice-grape cash prices to their lowest point in 10 years, said Trent Ball, an analyst hired by the Washington State Grape Society to deliver the “State of the Grapes” address at the group’s annual meeting.
“So tell your friends, ‘Drink juice, it’s good for you,’ ” Ball said to several dozen juice-grape growers at the Grandview Nazarene Church.
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Washington is the nation’s largest producer of juice grapes, most of them grown in the lower Yakima Valley near Grandview’s processing giants of Welch’s and Smucker’s.
The state’s juice-grape crop, which often plays second fiddle to the prestigious wine industry, is valued at roughly $50 million per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In his statistics-laden speech, Ball told growers that juice grapes are in a decline, with farmers tearing out vineyards in reaction to low prices both in Washington and in other growing regions such as New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
For two years in a row, Washington growers have fetched $110 per ton on the cash market, the lowest point since 2005. The 2012 price of $280 per ton set a 35-year record.
The problem is partly that the nation already has enough juice and juice concentrate. In 2014, state growers harvested 260,000 tons, the second-highest volume since 2005, and unlike fresh fruit, warehouses store juice for several years before selling it.
The state had just under 21,000 acres of juice grapes in 2015, the lowest footprint since 1994.
Even imports of grape juice, 80 percent of them from Argentina, have declined, Ball said.
Another problem is Americans are consuming less fruit overall, especially as juice, perhaps as a reaction to movements encouraging them to cut back on sugar, Ball said.
Though premium fruit juices are increasing in sales, fruit-juice consumption overall has dropped 14 percent since 2004, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit consumer-education group based in Hockessin, Del.
“The theme is, we need to drink more juice,” Ball said.