Gross agricultural receipts nearly equal to each other in 2016 and 2017 fail to tell of the impacts the Thomas Fire will have for years to come as Ventura County rebuilds from the devastating fire that claimed farms, homes and crops in late 2017.
At nearly $2.1 billion in 2017, gross farm receipts in the southern California county were off less than a half-percent from the previous year’s value. Yet, the larger news will be how avocados and citrus recover from the conflagration that started Dec. 4 of that year.
While the annual crop report is full of raw data – acreage, yields and gross receipts – it’s the short stories printed within the document from farmers affected by the fire that tell a larger story of tragedy and resilience.
For avocado growers the fire impacted over 1,200 acres of groves and damaged about 20 million pounds of production, or approximately 5 percent of the preseason forecasted 2018 crop, according to information in the report from the California Avocado Commission. Because new avocado trees take 3-5 years to reach full production, and nursery orders are now out to at least 2020, it will take some time for the county’s avocado industry to recover.
Avocado production was down 12 percent on the year to just over 54,000 tons from acreage that was almost 6 percent less than the previous year.
Strawberries remained the No. 1 crop by gross value, according to Acting Agricultural Commissioner Susan Johnson. Acreage was unchanged as yields improved more than 39 percent to over 34 tons per acre. Prices were off significantly, falling about $1,000 per ton or 27 percent for fresh market berries. Strawberries used for processing sold for 22 percent less than 2016 levels.
At No. 2 in total value, lemons saw improved production on softer prices. Over 293,000 tons of lemon production reflected yields nearly two tons per acre higher than 2016 as prices during the period fell just over $100 per ton to an average of $882.
Ongoing impacts remain of the Thomas Fire remain to be seen as early estimates put agricultural losses at over $170 million. Avocados, citrus and the cattle industries were hit the hardest, according to the report.