As the last of America’s three-leading agricultural counties issued its final crop values for 2013 the numbers are astonishing.
Kern County, Calif. released its final 2013 crop production numbers in mid-August and of the three counties – Fresno, Kern and Tulare – Kern’s production increase was the most modest at about 6 percent to over $6.76 billion.
While Fresno County was off 2.28 percent from its previous year value, neighboring Tulare County was up 25.7 percent to more than $7.8 billion because of record-high milk prices. Tulare County, Calif. produces more milk than most states.
In all, the three counties combined to produce more than $21 billion worth of agricultural commodities in 2013, $2 billion higher than the previous year’s figure. By comparison, the price paid to farmers for all agricultural commodities produced in Texas in 2012, including government payments, totaled more than $23.5 billion. Figures for 2013 were not available.
Boosted by a 3.1 percent increase in total grape acreage to 105,000, Kern County grape growers grossed more than $1.8 billion, $323 million more than they did the previous year, according to the annual crop report released by Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo.
The grape increase alone accounts for nearly 58 percent of the $557.49 million increase in total Ag value in Kern County between 2012 and 2013.
Arroyo indicated none of what appeared in the annual Ag report surprised him.
Grapes did well
“Grapes did well this year,” he said, noting that Kern’s agricultural portfolio, once you move beyond the top three commodities of grapes, almonds and milk, is fairly evenly-distributed.
Grapes account for nearly 27 percent of Kern County’s agricultural value. Almonds, at over $970 million in gross value, make up 14.3 percent of the county’s Ag portfolio while milk, with a gross value of $764.7 million, makes up another 11.3 percent of the county’s agricultural value.
While the increased value of grapes can be attributed to increased acreage, commodity prices factored into the increased numbers for almonds and milk.
Harvested acreage of almonds grew 3,000 to 147,000 in 2013. Per-acre production remained flat at 1.14 tons per acre while the per-ton price paid to growers was up 15 percent to an average of $5,490.
The county’s dairy producers saw fatter milk checks over the course of year.
Total milk production remained relatively flat at over 40.6 million hundredweight (cwt), while the average milk price climbed $1.70 per cwt to $18.80.
The county’s citrus crop had its ups and downs in large part due to a December freeze which Arroyo said resulted in a complete loss for some citrus growers.
Total volume harvested fell 84,800 tons, or roughly 9 percent over the previous year’s harvest.
Per-unit prices of citrus fell across all categories, except in the juice market, which rose 5 percent.
Total harvested citrus acreage was up 1,270 to 55,017 acres due primarily to increases in tangerine and tangelo plantings. Navel and Valencia acreage numbers fell slightly in 2013.
Mixed bag for citrus
Citrus yields were also a mixed bag for Kern County growers. Tangerine and tangelo yields saw the greatest increase, up 35 percent to 11.21 tons per acre. Lemons yields were also up nearly 28 percent to 14.79 tons per acre. All other citrus categories were down in yield.
The alternate-bearing cycle of pistachios is blamed for a dip in tonnage yielded – down 22 percent from the previous year.
Even more significant was the overall value of the pistachio crop, down more than 38 percent to just over $388 million. A combination of total yield and an average price drop of $1,080 per ton are blamed for the decline.
Still, total bearing acres of pistachios continue to rise in Kern County, now up 4.8 percent to 76,000 acres. Not only are there pistachios planted in the Central Valley portion of Kern County, but blocks of trees have been planted in the high desert region of eastern Kern County.
Other notable changes between 2012 and 2013 in Kern County included:
- Harvested acres of fresh-market tomatoes grew from 470 to 1,310 acres as total production jumped from 7,230 tons to 19,720 tons. The price paid for those tomatoes also climbed 57 percent to an average of $724 per ton.
- Cherries moved up 10 spots to number 12 in terms of total value. Total production of cherries in rose 273 percent in 2013 to 17,100 tons on 5,540 harvested acres.
- Upland cotton production fell 56.6 percent to 32,500 bales while Pima production was up 9,800 bales, or 9 percent, to 117,000 bales.
- Cantaloupe production was down from 11,800 tons to 7,500 tons.
- Fresh onion production grew nearly 40 percent to 85,200 tons.