Another Record Crop Value for Kern County, CA

The drum roll is getting louder as two of America’s three leading agricultural-producing counties have reported record gross crop values in 2014.

Kern County, Calif. is the latest to release its annual crop report and it’s another record high for the San Joaquin Valley’s southernmost county. It follows the release of Tulare County’s report a week earlier.

Kern County growers grossed a record $7.55 billion in 2014, an increase of 12 percent from the previous year, according to Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo.

The Fresno County Agricultural Department is slated to issue its report on Aug. 25.

Grapes continue to be Kern County’s single-most valued crop at over $1.7 billion. Rounding out the top three are almonds at $1.48 billion and milk at $915 million.

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.

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

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

By the numbers
Grapes were harvested from just over 106,000 acres of farmland in the county, with a majority of those – 61,600 acres, or about 58 percent, in table varieties. Table grape production increased 3,000 acres from the previous year.

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.

The popularity of almonds continues as 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 operation produced just over 2,000 pounds of almonds per acre. This compares to an average yield the previous year of 2,280 pounds per acre.

Water availability can largely be credited with declining almond yields as some growers could not apply 100 percent of the trees’ needs. Drought and the 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. 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 trailed the average 2013 price.

According to Arroyo, county dairy cow numbers 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
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 grew 17.1 percent in 2014.

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

Lemon prices had the largest price jump – up 40 percent to $1,270 per ton (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 2014 top crops, pistachio plantings climbed nearly 38 percent to over 108,000 acres. Nearly 103,000 of those acres were bearing as the report suggests non-bearing acreage continues to climb.

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 over 80 percent in 2014 to 151 total acres, a victim of water availability and higher-valued crops including tree nuts and vegetables.

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.

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.

Source: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

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