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Washington State produced an estimated 174,000 tons of juice grapes in 2012, down from its ten-year average of 193,000 tons, according to Trent Ball, director of the vineyard and winery technology ­program at Yakima Valley Community College.

Washington is the nation’s leading Concord and Niagara grape producer, typically producing about half of the country’s grapes that are used for juice and other food products. The nation’s Concord crop for 2012 is estimated at 294,000 tons, the smallest yield in more than a decade.

Damaging frosts last spring reduced Michigan’s crop by 60 percent, and in New York and Pennsylvania, yields were less than half of normal. Even Washington’s 2012 crop was below average caused by carryover effects from an early winter freeze in 2010.

Since 2008, the cash price in Washington has been above (or just slightly below) $200 per ton, and the last two years hit all-time highs of $250 in 2011 and $280 per ton last year.

“The last three years, we’ve seen steep, climbing prices, and there’s been seven consecutive years of rising prices,” Ball said during the annual meeting of the Washington State Grape Society in Grandview. “All indications are that prices are nearing the peak, and, based on the industry’s cyclical nature, prices will be heading downward soon.”

Imports of single-strength juice and concentrate were around 65 million gallons in 2011, and Ball predicts a similar number will be imported again in 2012. Argentina is the largest U.S. importer, accounting for about 70 percent of the volume.

“Argentina is reported to be in short supply, as well as California,” he said, which will keep prices holding as there isn’t a lot of supply available.

In the short term, Ball forecasts juice inventories will remain low and New York will have a big crop if normal weather returns. He predicts the cash price for 2013 will be similar or slightly higher than last year’s record price, but for the long term, he sees prices coming down.