Tulare County, Calif. will have to wait at least two more weeks to learn – officially at least – if it’s agricultural value leads the nation.
Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita released her annual crop report to county supervisors Aug. 11, announcing that for the first time ever gross receipts exceeded $8 billion.
The actual number is $8,084,672,400. But who’s counting?
“This in no way represents the costs of raising animals and growing crops,” Kinoshita reminded supervisors.
Figures from neighboring Fresno and Kern counties – the other two top-three Ag counties – will likely be released later in August.
The figure reflects a 10 percent boost from the previous year’s value of over $7.3 billion. The total was bolstered significantly by record-high milk prices dairymen received in 2014. A boost in tree nut prices and citrus helped.
Milk represents over 31 percent of the county’s total agricultural value, according to Kinoshita, which in 2014 had a gross value of well over $2.5 billion. Milk production rose almost 2 percent on the year to over 11.5 billion pounds.
By comparison, Tulare’s total milk output was about two billion pounds less than the milk production for the state of Idaho. Arizona dairies produced almost 4.7 billion pounds of milk in 2014, according to the USDA.
Also significant for Tulare County was the number of acres that left field crops for permanent plantings. Over 22,000 acres of new permanent plantings replaced field crops in 2014. Almonds led that pack with 9,270 new acres planted in 2014.
The second-leading permanent crop in terms of new acres planted wasn’t a nut crop, but citrus. Nearly 9,000 acres of tangerines and tangelos were planted in 2014 as growers sought to capitalize on the popularity of easy-peel citrus. This reflects a 63 percent boost to total tangerine and tangelo acreage.
New walnut plantings totaled over 5,200; new Navel oranges plantings totaled about 3,400 acres; and, over 2,100 acres of pistachios were planted in 2014, according to the statistical report.
“You don’t think of Tulare County as a big lemon producer, but we added over 1,000 acres of lemons last year,” Kinoshita said.
Tulare County has about 8,400 acres of lemons.
Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida, a third generation lemon and orange farmer from the Lindsay-Strathmore area, said he was impressed with the success the citrus industry had in 2014. Still, Ishida said water availability and prices, coupled with the impacts of the West Coast ports strike, hit the citrus industry particularly hard.
Ishida expects to see a sharp dip in next year’s citrus values.
Total citrus acreage in 2014 stood at over 131,000 acres, up 13,000 acres (11 percent) from 2013 plantings.
Aside from grapefruit, pomelo and Valencia orange plantings remained flat. Lemon and Navel orange acreages were higher in 2014 that the previous year.
The gains in permanent plantings were in contrast to the loss of row and field crop acreages in the county, according to Kinoshita. This lowered field crop values over 29 percent and vegetable crops almost 13 percent on fewer acres planted.
Tree nuts continue to be a significant part of the county’s Ag value as acreages and grower prices increase. Almond prices jumped about $2,000 per ton to over $8,000, on average. Growers harvested about 2,100 pounds per acre (countywide average) for a total of about 48,700 tons on over 46,000 acres.
Walnuts were harvested from about 40,000 acres and paid an average of $2,890 per ton, a drop of about $1,000 per ton over 2013 figures. Total walnut yield countywide was about 91,500 tons.
Pistachio prices climbed over 30 percent to over $6,400 per ton on average, according to the crop report. Over 58,000 tons of pistachios were harvested from about 45,000 acres. Crop yields in 2013 and 2014 were relatively stable at about 2,600 pounds per acre.
Kinoshita told supervisors that data show Tulare County remains the number one dairy, citrus and export counties in the state.
Of the agricultural exports to foreign customers, the percentages of crop types shipped overseas remains unchanged as oranges make up nearly 36 percent of the county’s export pie. Over 27 percent of the county’s grape crop is sent to foreign customers while almonds and pistachio exports make up 5.7 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively.
What changed was the number of countries receiving Tulare County commodities – up to 90 from 84, which Kinoshita says is a testament to the ability of growers and processors to successfully market various commodities.
Also noted during the morning presentation was the doubling of gross agricultural values in the past decade.
County supervisor and Tulare dairy producer Pete Vander Poel called this a testament to the ability of farmers and ranchers to adapt to changing markets and technologies in the face of otherwise challenging circumstances.
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“I appreciate you pointing out that these prices and this report’s overall value does not reflect our profits,” Vander Poel told Kinoshita.
Even though some crops saw record-high prices, growers were faced with ever-increasing costs related to water and other business costs.