Farmworker processes cilantro in Imperial Valley California

A farmworker processes cilantro on an Imperial County farming operation.

Increased Ag values mask California drought concerns

Imperial County reports record Ag value of $2.15 billion That's nuts! Stanislaus County's top crop is no longer milk Ventura County avocado growers have a good year    

Record-high agricultural values in some California counties are doing their best to mask the concerns farmers have over water.

Three more of California’s 10-leading Ag-producing counties joined the chorus of most of the other top-10 counties in revealing record-high agricultural values for 2013. San Joaquin County has yet to release its report.

In most cases, higher commodity prices in a number of crops are credited with bolstering Ag values. Of the 10 counties that account for 85 percent of California’s total agricultural value, only Fresno (typically the leading Ag county in the United States) was down in 2013. Drought and a lack of irrigation water from state and federal sources were blamed for Fresno’s downturn.

Imperial County

Improved demand for winter vegetables in the Midwest and Northeast combined with high-value vegetable plantings pushed the gross value of crops produced in Imperial County, Calif. 11 percent higher to a record $2.15 billion in 2013.

The boost in value came amidst a 6 percent decline in total harvested acres – down 35,444 from the previous year, according to Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Connie Valenzuela. The record value was due in large part to increased per-acre yields and favorable market prices.

Valenzuela said a number of high-value vegetable crops were harvested from 8,094 acres in 2013, helping to boost the miscellaneous vegetable category nearly 150 percent to just under $131 million.

According to the county crop report, those miscellaneous vegetables may include: artichoke, arugula, asparagus, Asian greens, basil, beans, beets, Bok Choy, Brussel sprout, celery chive, cilantro, collard, cucumber, dill, endive, fennel, garbanzo beans, kale, leek, mint, Napa cabbage, okra, oregano, parsley, peas, pepper, radish, rapini, rosemary, rutabaga, sage, squash, Swiss chard, tarragon, thyme, tomato and turnip.

Lettuce leads acreage

Head lettuce (22,531 acres), broccoli (15,947 acres) and carrots (13,698 acres) had the highest acreages of vegetable crops grown in the county, according to the report.

Cattle production remains the top commodity in Imperial County, valued at more than $552 million in 2013. Alfalfa is second at nearly $175 million.

Baled alfalfa hay was harvested from more than 111,000 acres in 2013, down slightly from the previous year when more than 132,000 acres was harvested. Imperial County showed a slight decrease in the unit cost of alfalfa to over $202 per ton (average price).

Bermuda grass for hay was harvested from more than 51,000 acres, a 5,000 acre increase over the previous year.

Cotton acreage declined from 5,233 to 3,431 acres, according to the report.

Imperial County borders Mexico and is a major player in the production of winter vegetables.

Stanislaus County

The big news out of the northern San Joaquin Valley county of Stanislaus wasn’t in the 12 percent increase to a new record crop value of $3.66 billion; for the first time in a long time milk is no longer the single-largest commodity produced in Stanislaus County by value.

The new king crop belongs to almonds.

In classic fashion to match the almond industry’s successful trajectory, the tree nut crop also became Stanislaus County’s first-ever commodity to be valued at more than $1 billion. The value of the county’s almond crop jumped more than $389 million to a record $1,125,200,000.

More than 5,000 additional bearing acres and a price that averaged $5,800 per ton on 194,000 tons produced helped push the price to record territory. The average yield was up 11 percent to 2,420 pounds per acre.

Total almond acreage in Stanislaus County exceeds 160,000, according to Stanislaus County Ag Commissioner Milton O’Haire.

Pollination's new category

New with the 2013 crop report was how pollination services are classified. Almond pollination is a category unto its own; all other pollination services are categorized as “miscellaneous.”

The category shows that 330,000 colonies of honeybees were used to pollinate the 2013 almond crop for an average of just over two colonies per acre. In 2012 310,000 honeybee colonies were used to pollinate 155,114 acres of almonds for an average of just under two colonies per acre.

The category also shows the average colony price of $162.45 was slightly higher than the previous year’s average of $155 per colony.

Queen bees are also a category in the Stanislaus Crop report, showing that just over 11,000 queen bees valued at $16 each was produced in the county.

Walnuts were the third-largest commodity in terms of total value at more than $212 million.

While the overall value of the walnut crop increased from the previous year, harvested acres dipped slightly to 37,435. Even so, yields were up ever-so-slightly and the price paid to growers increased $485 per ton from the previous year’s value of $3,000.

Equal in value to cattle and calves produced in the county are chickens. More than 164 million head of chickens were produced in the county in 2013, a decline of about 20 million head over the previous year. Just over 10 million head of turkeys were produced, a decline of about two million head from the previous year.

Grape acreage dipped slightly to 12,382 in 2013, according to the report. The dip was spread evenly between red and white varieties.

Peach acreage likewise dipped slightly to less than 7,400 acres.

Total tomato acreage was off by about a third to just over 19,000 for both fresh (832 acres) and processing (18,457 acres).

Nursery products remain a growing industry in Stanislaus County with a number of large commercial nurseries in the region.

Total field acres of nursery products increased a few hundred to 2,108 acres.

The amount of land dedicated to growing organic products fell from 4,113 to 3,259 acres.

Included in the crop report is a list of 102 countries that import food grown in Stanislaus County. The single-largest importer of Stanislaus County agricultural products is Hong Kong.

Other crop figures include:

  • Dry beans were harvested from 9,670 acres, down from 25,506 the previous year. Significant declines were seen in black-eyes and limas;
  • Broccoli was harvested from 2,678 acres, up a little over 500 acres from the previous year;
  • Sweet potatoes acreage remained relatively stable at 1,143;
  • Alfalfa acreage fell about 4,600 acres to 31,449;
  • Rice acreage was cut in half to 1,181; and,
  • Silage acreage grew to more than 153,000.

Ventura County

Cold weather that slowed strawberry production, a major fire that damaged crops and impacted their harvest, plus California’s multi-year drought each impacted Ventura County agricultural yields, according to Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales.

Still, market prices prevailed to push the total value of crops produced in the county up 6.7 percent to a record $2.09 billion.

While strawberries remained the county’s highest-valued crop at more than $608 million, their value fell 12 percent from the previous year because a number of factors, according to the crop report.

The report quotes Edgar Terry of Terry Farms, a Ventura-based strawberry farmer, on the decline in the value of the county’s strawberry crop. According to Terry, a “perfect storm of events” combined to push down the value of strawberries produced in the county.

As quoted in the annual crop report, Terry says: “The drought, which is still in effect, played a major role with the strawberries. Due to a lack of rain, insects (spider mites in particular) caused major damage to a number of strawberry fields in the county. The dry weather seems to be perfect for spider mite populations and the difficulty to manage them with predatory

Mites and insecticides during 2013 were unprecedented.”

Terry continued: “Also, in 2013, cold weather coupled with no rain acted like a giant dehydration facility on the plants. This cold weather caused plant stress which weakens the plant and reduces its life cycle and productive capabilities.

“In fact, many growers removed their strawberries in early May 2013 which was a full two months earlier than normal. These two issues combined caused a shortened crop which led to less flats per acre which led to less revenue per acre that added up to historic and devastating losses in 2013,” Terry said.

The decline in the value of strawberries wasn’t for a lack of acreage: 2,136 more acres of strawberries were planted in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the crop report. Still, the factors cited dropped yields from nearly 31 tons per acre in 2012 to just under 23.5 tons per acre in 2013.

The total strawberry harvest in the county was down 35,096 tons, or nearly 10 percent from the previous year. Fresh-market strawberry prices were up slightly while processed prices fell.

Avocado numbers rosey

One bright spot on the year was seen in avocados.

The value of avocados climbed 85 percent over the previous year to more than $209 million, according to Gonzales.

The increase was realized on a 4 percent increase in acreage to 20,121. Yield was also strong at 5.64 tons per acre, an increase of 66 percent over the previous year. Total yield was up 73 percent to 113,406 tons while the tonnage price climbed 6.8 percent to just shy of $1,850.

Celery also had a positive year as price and total yield on 675 additional acres (11,273 total acres harvested) increased. The per-ton price of celery climbed more than $109 (32 percent) to just over $447 per ton.

Danny Pereira of Rio Farms offered his perspective in the crop report on the 2013 celery crop: “Initially we started the 2013 season with the transition from the Salinas Valley with very light volumes coming from that area; that area cut back their acreage on the tail end of their deal. We started the Oxnard season with very high demand due to the Thanksgiving pull with light supplies.”

Pereira continued: “When you get into the Holiday season with light supplies, the supply issue remains because shippers have contract commitments and could very well have to reach early into fields to have the product to honor those commitments, thus making non-contracted product more valuable. There were also some front-end production issues in the desert that contributed to less volume in the market.”

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Ventura County exports over 27 different commodities to international markets. The largest segment of this (27 percent) comes from the county’s lemon crop, which in 2013 was valued at $188.9 million, or 6.3 percent lower than the previous year.

Ventura County is located on the southern California coast.

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