Lettuce production boosts Ag values in Monterey County Cailf

Lettuce production -- head and leaf -- soared to over $1.4 billion in gross value in Monterey County, Calif. in 2014. The total Ag value for the county that year was $4.49 billion.

Lettuce prices help boost Ag values in Monterey County

Top three commodities swap places in 2014 Leaf lettuce moves into No. 1 position Strawberry value moves into No. 2 position

Whether you’re writing a Simon and Garfunkel song that names herbs in a melodic refrain or just trying to load up at the salad bar, Monterey County, Calif. has what it takes for both.

Typically one of the top four agricultural counties in the United States, Monterey County is perhaps best known for producing a plethora of salad ingredients, some exported to 54 different countries.

Higher prices for some of those fruits and vegetables, coupled with better yields for some crops, pushed the county’s total agricultural value to nearly $4.5 billion, a 6.5 percent increase from the previous year’s record high.

In his report, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen noted a high degree of price fluctuations in many crops in 2014 when compared to the previous year. Market conditions and the weather played a role in these price changes.

Lettuce values increased 18 percent on higher pricing. This helped push the total value of leaf lettuce, the county’s largest crop, to over $775 million on nearly 65,000 acres of production. Leaf lettuce replaced strawberries as 2013’s top-valued crop, moving the juicy berries to the number two spot at nearly $709.3 million on just over 11,000 acres of production.

According to Lauritzen, the method for calculating strawberry values improved and strawberry values were adjusted upward to reflect the change. The 2014 strawberry value was up about 5 percent over the previous year’s figure.

Head lettuce at over $651 million (44,208 acres), Broccoli at $412 million (63,561 acres), and nursery products at $286.6 million (1,236 acres), bested nearly 46,000 acres of wine grapes valued at $247.4 million to round out the top-five.

Wine grapes continue to show an increase in total acres planted, as well as overall value.

The top three white varieties in the county were Chardonnay at over $86 million, Riesling at over $9 million and Pinot Gris at over $7 million.

Over 73,000 tons of Chardonnay grapes were harvested from 17,000 acres. Chardonnay grape prices averaged $1,180 per ton.

Red varieties

Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were the top three red varieties. Nearly 43,000 tons of Pinot Noir grapes were harvested from 8,840 acres. At an average price of $1,700 per ton, Pinot Noir grape values totaled nearly $73 million.

Merlot growers were paid an average of $1,050 per ton ($22.6 million total) and Cabernet Sauvignon growers were paid an average of $1,140 per ton for a total of $22.6 million.

Keep in mind, these are all gross dollar figures and do not reflect profit or loss.

This was not the best year for grape growers in terms of total production or value, though county data indicate that 2014 saw the highest number of bearing acres in the past 10 years at 45,993. In all, grape growers harvested 200,000 tons in 2014.

Grape yield in 2005 totaled 269,000 tons on 38,179, making it the best year for grape volume in the past decade.

Significant increases were seen in spinach and spring mix values. Spinach values grew 29 percent to $157.8 million and spring mix value was up 26 percent to $88.2 million on higher pricing and production, Lauritzen said.

Crops with declining values in 2014 included nursery products, barley, beans, hay, oats and avocados.

Lauritzen blamed the nursery value decline of 8 percent on reduced acreage. Drought conditions also played a part, as did forage crops.

Higher prices for cattle couldn’t prevent a 10 percent drop in cattle value, which was also impacted by lack of forage due to drought.

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The county’s avocado crop declined in value by 59 percent to just over $1.2 million. While acreage remained little-changed, production was down significantly. Total production fell from 1,420 tons in 2013 to 575 tons in 2014. Yield was to blame as production per acre fell from six tons to 2.5 tons.

The complete Monterey County Crop Report is available online.

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