A source in Izmir, Turkey, reports that the continuing warm weather has helped to advance the vines, but although there has been talk of the new crop of sultanas and raisins being harvested up to two weeks earlier than usual, this may not actually be the case.
This year, the Byram holiday week, which ends Ramadan, falls at the end of August. This is the time when most of the grapes will need to be picked. Most are picked by hand, so the absence of workers may push back first shipments until the beginning of September.
According to the export statistics and the sales recorded at the local Izmir bourse, there should be sufficient vine fruit from this year’s Turkish crop to meet requirements, although it is possible that the supply of Turkish raisins will be exhausted. Packers have begun offering new crop Turkish sultanas and major UK retailers have also started to place orders and carry out their annual internet auctions to secure the tonnages of fruit they need for the coming year.
This can be a dangerous exercise for UK importers and local packers, as there is still ample time for problems to occur with the new crop, ranging from a sudden frost in the coming days, to rain or hail damage at harvest time. Early indicative prices for 2018 crop Turkish sultanas suggest prices between USD1,650-1,750 per tonne fob Izmir for specially cleaned standard No.9 quality with a premium of USD100-150/tonne for better grades such as type No. 10 sultanas. The availability of darker sultanas such as type No. 8 will depend on weather conditions at harvest, but these are usually available at a discount of between USD75-100/tonne against standard No.9 sultanas.
The critical question is the percentage of fruit that Turkish farmers choose to dry as genuine raisins. This year, there will be a major incentive to dry more fruit as raisins, due to the higher than usual difference in price between sultanas and raisins. If a large quantity of fruit is dried as raisins, it may be that there will then be upward price pressure on sultanas. There may also be higher demand for new crop fruit this year too, as this should be free from the pesticide Iprodione, which has had its authorisation for use withdrawn by the EU.
The election for the Turkish president has been brought forward to the summer and as with elections worldwide, the importance of the rural vote will be a factor when electioneering takes place. It is possible that the field price for Turkish vine fruits may be announced earlier than usual and perhaps be higher than otherwise might have been expected. There are therefore lots of different factors to take into account before markets settle and it should prove to be an interesting season.
The total absence of Greek currants has caused some concern for the UK dried fruit market, although to date there have not really been any reports of serious shortages. Price increases take time to filter down to retail packs, but it does seem likely that the percentage of currants used as an ingredient in traditional products such as cakes and puddings will be less than usual. Prices of currants remain high, with Greek provincial currants quoted between GBP2,500-2,600 (USD3,487-3,627) per tonne ex store UK where unsold stock can be found. The new crop is progressing well, but first shipments will not take place until mid-September.
News from Mildura in Australia is heartening, with a much better than usual Australian sultana crop predicted. The weather has been excellent for the grapes and the vines are showing big bunches and lots of them.
The high prices of Californian and Turkish raisins have been an excellent opportunity for southern hemisphere producers in Chile, South Africa and Australia and should enable farmers to obtain higher prices for their crops. This may in turn encourage larger tonnages in the future and is good news for the European consumer, as it is healthy to have a vibrant marketplace with different origins and types of fruit.