The numbers continue to decline among California’s 10-leading agricultural producing counties as Merced and San Joaquin crop reports are now official.
Both counties are pretty much in the middle of the pack in terms of gross dollar value, and like the other San Joaquin Valley counties, each were down more than 10 percent in total value.
Of the large agricultural producing counties in the state, only Monterey County showed an increase in 2015 to a record high.
The 2015 gross farm gate value of commodities produced in Merced County fell nearly 19 percent to $3.58 billion, a move that really did not surprise county Agricultural Commissioner David Robinson.
Lower commodity prices and water availability, which led to the fallowing of farmland, are largely to blame for the declines, Robinson said.
Though milk and almonds lead agricultural values in the county, Merced leads the state in the production of sweet potatoes, producing more than 255,000 tons of the large vegetables in 2015. The gross value on that crop was more than $194 million on per-ton prices that were about 10 percent lower than the previous year.
“Sweet potatoes sustain a lot of family farms in this area,” Robinson said.
Milk production has long been the top-valued commodity in the county because of the region’s large dairy herd. For 2015 the big news was the significant drop in milk prices to the dairy producer – off nearly 40 percent from the previous year’s record-high of over $22 per hundredweight (cwt).
Milk output was down 3 percent over the previous year to just over 6.26 billion pounds, according to the county crop report.
At No. 2, almonds likewise saw prices fall significantly, down about 20 percent to the grower, who saw average yields drop by 12.5 percent in 2015. Harvested acreage was up about 2 percent on the year.
Bearing acres of the other popular nut crops – walnuts and pistachios – were also up on the year as pecans re-entered the crop report with 29 bearing acres of trees harvested in 2015.
Among the field crops, harvested acres were up in alfalfa, hay for grain, Sudan hay and silage corn. Of these, two of the larger staples for the dairies – alfalfa and silage corn – saw significant drops in prices to the producer. Alfalfa was off over 25 percent or more than $60 per ton on average while corn silage prices fell over $11 per ton, or about 19 percent.
Cotton production was down overall because of a 4,000 acre drop in Pima acreage. Acala acreage remained flat at just over 19,000 acres.
Production of the fiber crop was down about 15 percent, or just over 19,000 bales from the previous year due to fewer planted acres and shorter yields.
San Joaquin County
A couple counties north of Merced is San Joaquin County, which like other Valley counties saw significant declines in crop values in 2015 due to softer commodity prices and the availability of irrigation water, which forced farmers to fallow large tracts of farmland.
In 2015 San Joaquin County farm producers sold their raw commodities for just over $2.73 billion, a decline of 15.5 percent over the previous year.
All three of San Joaquin County’s top crops – almonds, milk and grapes – saw declines in total value on the year. Grapes and walnuts traded spots in 2015 as the No. 3 and No. 4 crops by total value.
Almond acreage was up again more than 10 percent to just over 65,000 bearing acres. In spite of the new bearing acres, total yield was down 8 percent as per-acre yields fell 16.5 percent, on average.
Grower prices were off more than $1,500 per ton to just under $7,000.
Grape yields were off 25 percent on the year as prices held mostly steady.
Bearing acres of grapes fell 4 percent.
Cherry farmers, who tend to have a good year or a terrible year because of the weather surrounding harvest, had a good one in 2015.
Bearing acreage held steady as yields more than doubled to 2.6 tons per acre. This more than doubled the total value of the county’s cherry crop to over $181 million.
Walnut production was off 6.8 percent as grower prices fell 40 percent.
Alfalfa growers produced 13 percent less hay and silage corn production was off almost 14 percent on the year.
Processing tomato production was relatively flat on prices similar to the previous year.
Onion production was off almost 30 percent while potato production was slightly improved from the previous year.