IFG's new raisin variety will be presented at the Raisin Field Day on August 14. (Photo: Courtesy of IFG)

IFG utilizes Dried on Vine processes to reduce labor costs. 

Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

The largest table grape breeder, International Fruit Genetics, introduced itself into the raisin market with a newly patented Dried on Vine variety—Rais-one. According to Dustin Hooper, the commercial manager for raisins at IFG, Rais-one is uniquely suited to reduce labor costs and streamline the pruning process.

“With Rais-one, and this is kind of like the first variety in our line of raisin varieties, we’re focusing on varieties that have a tendency to DOV on their own without cutting canes, so that’s one major [labor] saving,” Hooper said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the moisture level for raisins to be dried down to 18%. Hooper explained that the process of drying, pruning, and harvesting raisins is labor intensive as growers cut the cane, move it to a certain area on the vine for air and sunlight exposure, tie the vine off, and lay the grapes out to dry.

Rais-one was bred with characteristics to withstand spur pruning and machine harvesting, according to Hooper, significantly cutting down labor costs.

“[It’s] maybe like $400 an acre just to cut the canes or more depending on labor availability…so, it can be a pretty substantial cost per acre just to get that one part done to start the drying process,” Hooper said.

For the last 20 years, IFG focused on breeding a variety of table grapes, but in the last three or four years, the fruit breeder created a program to explore traits that are desirable in raisins. Hooper explained that several factors are considered in breeding new raisin varieties, including flavor, color, wrinkles, and storage life.

“It’s a long-term holding product…you’re not just processing it and sending it out the door next week,” Hooper said. “A year from now, we may pull it in and then send it off to be processed into food service …you have to make sure it’s ready to do that, and a lot of varieties are not.”

While IFG raisin varietals are being grown for consumers, most are intended for value-added products such as breakfast bars. The company has 25 other raisin varietals being tested at Fruitworks—IFG’s research and development headquarters.

According to Hooper, the plan is to end up with three to five DOV varieties. He explained that IFG has welcomed grower input in order to create varieties that will be sustainable and marketable.

“We don’t want 25 varieties out in the raisin industry because it’s just too convoluted for all the growers, and then nobody’s going to know what to plant… we want the growers to be involved in that—we don’t want to be over here in a silo just making things that we think will work,” Hooper said.

With Rais-one set to hit the market in 2024, the remaining test varieties will continue to be evaluated and tested. IFG will host a Raisin Field Day on Aug. 14 at Marthedal Farm.

Three Central Valley growers have been working with IFG, growing test blocks of the Rais-one variety. Jon Marthedal from Marthedal Farms holds the main test block, estimated at two acres, with both trellis and rootstock trials.

In a press release, Marthedal Farms farm manager Austin Hubbel explained that the DOV process has shown positive results and allowed for reduced labor input.

“For the first time in years, we are able to alleviate several arduous processes that used to take so much time and energy,” Hubbel said. “Additionally, the quality of the IFG’s raisins will allow growers to stay competitive in an ever-changing world market.”

Dwayne Cardoza of Dwayne A. Cardoza Ranches, Inc. planted test rows as well as five acres of Rais-one in 2023 and another five for commercial production. Michael Kazarian from R.K. Limited also planted a test row with five additional acres of Rais-one for commercial production.

While there are no current market projections, Hooper expects to see tangible results by next year. He explained that IFG is committed to the raisin market and connecting growers to opportunities for a better profit.

“We’ve really seen a big drop in acreage in the raisin market, and I’m not saying we need a huge amount of acres back,” Hooper said. “But if we do some good, value-added varieties that can reduce the labor, reduce the input, [and] still give them a good bottom line, I think we can redevelop some of what’s left and really have some excitement in the market.”

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