Oil and agriculture mark two big industries for Kern County Calif

Two major Kern County’s industries are agriculture and oil. Figures from 2014 show agriculture grossed $7.5 billion on higher commodity prices and higher yields for some crops.

Another record crop value for Kern County, Calif.

Grapes, almonds and milk top Kern County Ag values in 2014 Citrus values climb on better market prices and increased acreage Cotton acreage continues to dwindle

Grapes and almonds continue to command over a billion each in gross receipts in Kern County, Calif., according to the latest statistics issued by the county’s agricultural department.

Kern County growers saw a 12 percent boost in gross receipts in 2014, which pushed the county’s overall crop value past $7.55 billion for the first time ever.

Two-thirds of that total value was made up by the county’s top five commodities (grapes, almonds, milk, citrus, cattle and calves), according to Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo.

“What this report tells me is we have four very big agricultural industries here in Kern County as represented by our top-four commodities,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo always cautions people that the figures included in the crop report are gross dollar amounts paid to producers and do not reflect profit or loss.

By the numbers

At $1.7 billion, grape values accounted for nearly 24 percent of the overall crop value. That value was off slightly from the $1.82 billion paid for all grapes in the county in 2013.

Total grape acreage grew 1,200 to 106,200 acres in 2014. A majority of those – 61,600 acres, or about 58 percent, were in table varieties. Table grape production increased 3,000 acres from the previous year as raisin grape acreage fell 2,400 during the same period.

At just over $1.5 billion, the value of table grapes made up nearly all of the overall value of grape production in the county. Statistically speaking, table grape prices remained relatively flat compared to 2013, averaging just over $2,000 per ton.

That's nuts

The popularity of almonds continues to be seen in the crop report as bearing acres rose to 199,000 from 147,000 the previous year and non-bearing acres (new plantings) increased significantly from 2013.

Also significant was the increase in almond prices – up 29.6 percent on average from the previous year to $7,120 per ton.

The average almond yield was just over 2,000 pounds of almonds per acre, down 11.4 percent from the previous year.

Water availability can largely be credited with declining almond yields as some growers could not apply 100 percent of what their trees needed. Drought and a complete elimination of surface water supplies by state and federal officials combined to reduce irrigation supplies to growers.

Milk production remained statistically even in the county at nearly 41 billion pounds. The record-high prices paid to dairy producers for milk in 2014 was responsible for pushing the total value of milk to over $915 million.

Kern dairymen received an average of $22.30 per hundredweight for their milk in 2014, an increase of 18.6 percent from the previous year. As of mid-summer this year California milk prices trailing the average 2013 price.

According to Arroyo, dairy cow numbers in the county have declined in recent years due in part to poor milk prices prior to 2014 and the financial incentive to relocate to other states because of California’s higher business costs.

Citrus shines

At No. 4 in overall value, citrus production is knocking on the door of being a billion-dollar commodity in Kern County and could exceed that amount in the next few years if planting and market trends continue.

While Navel oranges continue to be the single-most popular citrus crop at 31,400 acres, mandarin varieties are close behind.

Total citrus acreage climbed considerable during the period, boosted predominantly by the addition of tangerine and tangelo plantings. The easy-peel category grew 47 percent in total acreage to 23,000, according to the crop report. Total citrus acreage was up 17.1 percent in 2014.

In spite of this increase, almost 1,000 acres of Valencia oranges were pulled in 2014.

As citrus prices went lemons saw the largest jump – up 40 percent to $1,270 per ton on average. Navel prices were up 38 percent to $942 per ton. Valencia orange prices climbed over 21 percent to $783 and, at 1,800 per ton, mandarin prices were just over 12 percent better than the previous year.

At No. 6 in the pecking order of top crops in 2014, pistachio plantings climbed nearly 38 percent to over 108,000 acres. Nearly 103,000 of those acres are bearing as the report suggests non-bearing acreage continues to climb.

Pistachio production in 2014 averaged 1,560 pounds per acre, down over 36 percent from the previous year’s yield of 2,460 pounds per acre. Water availability and poor chilling hours continue to be blamed for declining pistachio yields.

The county’s pistachio crop was valued at just over $400 million. Pistachio prices to growers totaled just over $5,000 per ton of in-shell equivalents, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Once a significant crop dating back to the Dust Bowl, cotton acreage fell 36 percent to just over 30,000. The largest decline was in Upland and Acala acreage – down 60 percent from 2013 to 2014. In all, over 32,000 bales of Upland and Acala varieties were produced; Pima production totaled 117,000 bales.

Vegetable plantings rose 19.7 percent. This includes broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions and potato seeds. Increased total acreage and price factors nearly doubled the value of Kern County’s vegetable crop to over $6.2 million.

Processing tomato acreage grew nearly 17 percent to 14,000 total acres. Yield of the cannery product was also up nearly 33 percent. Coupled with a 33 percent boost in grower prices, the canning tomato product gained about $26 million in total value to gross over $66.2 million.

Also in the crop report:

Kern County has 52 registered growers and handlers of organic products, which in part include: alfalfa, apples, broccoli carrots, lettuce, onions, oranges and table grapes;

Alfalfa plantings dropped from 116,000 acres to 109,000 acres;

Silage and forage plantings were down from 93,000 to 85,000 acres;

Wheat acreage fell from 35,000 to 27,600;

Fresh garlic acreage grew slightly to 2,610;

Processed garlic acreage doubled to 1,000;

Potato and onion plantings were relatively little changed;

The charge for pollination services increased $20 per colony to $173, on average; and,

Cantaloupe plantings were nil in 2014 after 560 acres were harvested the year before.

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