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Growers Announce 2018 Prune Price

YUBA CITY, CA, January 15, 2019 – A 23% reduction in crop production has resulted in a price recommendation that holds prices steady on California prunes despite trade and global market challenges. Directors of the Prune Bargaining Association voted last month to maintain the same price schedule for the 2018 crop as the 2017 crop. The price schedule provides guidance to growers and packers on prices to be paid to growers for California prunes depending on size and quality of the fruit.

In making their decision PBA Directors considered domestic and international market factors, supply and trade demand, and average export volume and unit-value trends provided by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Despite the down-turn in global trade for prunes, U.S. prune exports increased 11% in the first quarter of the 2018-19 market year, according to USDA-FAS. Since California accounts for nearly 100% of U.S. prune production, the increase in volume is good news for California growers who have seen some sharp volume declines in the recent past. In 2016, export volume fell to 37,000 tons from 43,000 tons in the previous year. Exports account for about 50 percent of the industry’s trade volume.

In charting a course to maintain firm prices to growers, PBA Directors acknowledged that the industry faces serious challenges, noting that cheap, inferior product from foreign sources and escalating tarriffs have impacted key markets. For example, the USDA reports shipments to Hong Kong down 35% and shipments to Germany down 21% for the first quarter of the new market year. Yet, PBA President, Ranvir Singh, is cautiously optimistic. "California quality and consistency is attractive to the trade and to consumers," he explains. 'Customers are finding that other sources of prunes just don't have the same quality they have come to expect from California."

The Prune Bargaining Association was formed in 1968 as a grower-owned cooperative to improve the economy of the California prune industry, encourage the production of a quality product and provide a forum for growers to exchange ideas regarding the industry. The PBA establishes the industry’s raw product price for prunes.

Association Announces New Field Price Schedule and Methods for the California Prune Crop

YUBA CITY, CA January 25, 2016–Facing a potential unprecedented downward swing in field prices, California’s prune farmers have taken steps to address market forces and move the industry towards sustainable profitability for U.S. growers, establishing a new price recommendation for its members and proposing new industry procedures to address competitive pressures.

According to the Prune Bargaining Association (PBA), the price recommendation provides a modest decrease on large fruit where supply is balanced or limited and sharply reduces prices on small prunes where supply and demand are out of balance. “The new price schedule reflects changes in the global market for prunes while recognizing the limited availability of the best quality and sized prunes for pitting,” says Greg Thompson, PBA General Manager.

California prunes are produced mainly by small to medium size family owned farms in the central valleys of California. These family farmers have long been leaders in world prune production, however, increasing labor, regulatory, and input costs, and the rapid rise in demand for tree nuts from Asian markets have seriously eroded the prune acreage base in California. “We believe that California Prune farmers need to push back against forces that threaten to further shrink their industry,” says Thompson.

Members of the Association met this past week to discuss the many challenges to maintaining profitability while meeting the highest quality, food safety, and environmental standards in the world. “California is the leader in the world for agricultural excellence and environmental sustainability,” explained PBA President Ranvir Singh. “Yet our processors face overseas tariffs that our competitors don’t face, and pressure from cheap imported product that doesn’t begin to compare to our quality, our standards, or our food safety.”

In addition to the new price schedule for the 2015 crop, the Association plans to put forward changes for the 2016 crop on how the industry measures size and quality and how the grower price is calculated from those criteria. “The old methods are outdated and overly complicated, frustrating growers and encouraging fragmentation, while putting California at a competitive disadvantage in the global market place,” explains Thompson. “We don’t want our consumers to end up with inferior imported product because we failed to take action to adapt our business practices to current conditions and bring vitality back into our industry.”

According to the Association, efforts of PBA and its members helped to establish a new price benchmark in 2014 for growers that stemmed the tide of prune orchard loss. “Unfortunately, big crops in South America and economic downturns in Russia, China and Brazil has hurt the overall export market for prunes and resulted in a much bigger gap in trade prices for the dried plum fruit grown in South American and California Prunes grown and package here,” says Thompson. “We plan to take steps to overcome the challenge.”

The Prune Bargaining Association was formed in 1968 as a grower-owned cooperative to improve the economy of the California prune industry, encourage the production of a quality product and provide a forum for growers to exchange ideas regarding the industry. The PBA negotiates with prune buyers to establish the industry’s raw product price for prunes.

Strongest El Nino Since the 1950’s threatens Global Prune Production

YUBA CITY, CA October 26, 2015–Effects of the 2015/16 El Nino are already being felt in both the northern and southern hemispheres with record breaking hurricane winds hitting Mexico, torrential rains causing severe flooding in Southern California, and ongoing rain and cloudy weather in Chile during the spring growing season. While the rain is a welcome relief to drought in both Chile and California, the ongoing rainy weather pattern threatens the developing prune crop in Chile. The forecast for a strong El Nino year casts doubt on the 2016 crop in California. California and Chile together account for 80 percent of the world's dried prune production.

Scientists are comparing the current El Nino with the record breaking 1997/1998 event that resulted in severe weather and flooding in many areas of the U.S. In that season, the California prune crop was initially estimated at 170,000 tons. However, excessive rain and gloomy skies that lasted into the summer months took their toll and final production amounted to only 102,000 tons. Prune growers in Chile are currently concerned about the same kind of thing happening to their crop according to recent visitors to the prune growing regions.

Warm and wet conditions increase the likelihood of disease problems in fruit production. The University of California provides integrated pest management guidelines for 8 different bacterial or fungal diseases of prune trees and 25 different insect and mite pests. "Results from El Nino are hard to predict," says Greg Thompson, General Manager of the Prune Bargaining Association. "Rain is needed, but too much rain and cloudy weather can result in heavy crop loss from both the lack of sunshine and increased disease and pest pressure."

Prune production tends to vary widely from year to year. South American producers experienced good conditions in 2014/15 with total production from Chile and Argentina amounting to 123,000 short tons compared to only 84,000 short tons in the previous year. "Unfortunately several key markets for South American producers are in an economic slump," explains Thompson. "The increased supply and lower demand has resulted in lower prices to South American growers. With lower prices, growers tend to cut back on cultural inputs—which could lead to disaster in a wet and warm growing season."

New Marketing Coop established

As a cooperative, PBA provided services to its members to jointly market members' prunes for the past 3 years. The agreement provided that PBA act as the agent on behalf of the member without taking title, and handled the logistics to find buyers, pack and ship prunes to buyers, and provide the means to transfer title from the growers to the buyer. The PBA acted as the handler of record, paying marketing order assessments and packing and shipping costs, collecting payments from buyers, and distributing net proceeds to the growers.

This trial into direct marketing has been successful and has provided benefits to the PBA and its members in the form of better returns and increased knowledge of the market. Growers involved in the program wish to continue, however, the initial program was a temporary solution for our members who could not find a suitable buyer for their crops. With the supply balance having swung in the opposite direction, continuing the program through PBA may compromise its ability to negotiate with packers, as packers could see the PBA as a competitor if the we continue to market prunes directly.

For this reason, an organizing committee of PBA board members met on July 25, 2013 and formally incorporated a new organization. Articles, bylaws, membership, and marketing agreements were drafted and reviewed. The marketing agreement will provide for similar structure as before: the new cooperative will act as an agent only - title and risk remain with the grower until sold to buyer.

The California Prune Growers Marketing Association (CPGMA) establishes a permanent and ongoing direct market program for PBA members and their prune and nut crops. The new organization will be owned and operated by and for California Prune Growers and is a separate and stand alone legal entity from the PBA. The CPGMA will make direct sales from growers to buyers utilizing risk management strategies to improve returns and profitability. It will build on the success and support of the customer base established over past 3 years as well as help to expand markets and explore new opportunities for the benefit of growers. Growers must be a member of PBA to join.

The CPGMA will provide an alternative market channel for PBA members, providing market access, transparency, and trends in real time. As a separate entity it provides self-direction for growers in the marketing program, and the necessary structure to secure bank financing. For further information, or if you would like to become a member of the new organization, please contact Greg Thompson at 530-674-5636 office, or 530-713-9909 cell.