Just add water.
Three words farmers know well and may be the sole factor in not just reversing Fresno County’s ag value slide these last few years, but in pushing the figure back into record territory.
The annual announcement of Fresno County’s gross ag value is always an affair of sorts. The presentation at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, where two of the current members are farmers, gathers a gaggle of media and others interested in the new number.
Fresno County farmers in 2018 grossed $7,887,583,790 for the estimated 300 crops produced, over 12.2 percent, or $859,559,690 above the previous year’s figure.
This news comes as farmers in 2018 received a full allocation of surface water from state and federal sources because of record rain and snow the previous season. For federal water users south of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta, this was akin to winning the lottery as full surface water allocations to users in that region are as rare as unicorn sightings.
Because Fresno was the first of the big three counties – Fresno, Tulare, Kern – to release its annual crop report, we’ll have to wait to see how the rankings play out. Fresno lost its crown several years ago, first to Tulare County, then Kern County, as the mix of crops in those counties was able to overcome Fresno’s losses, despite similar water woes and drought impacts. Prior to 2014 it was rare for Fresno County to lose its top ranking as the reports were released.
Two things stood out in Fresno County’s latest report, which caused me to search Kings County’s report as that region continues to be the top cotton producer in the state.
Fresno County’s cotton growers achieved record yields averaging 3.37 bales per acre for Acala varieties and 3.71 bales per acre in the Pima varieties in 2018. In neighboring Kings County, cotton farmers achieved a full bale per acre more in 2018 than they did the previous year with their Acala varieties yielding an average of 3.92 bales per acre. Pima yields averaged 3.52 bales per acre in Kings County, almost a bale higher than the previous year. Because these are averages, it suggests the tailgate chatter and rumors were close – that some growers in the Valley last year likely had 5-bale production in some of their fields. I’ll bet the cotton seed companies had a run on 4-bale jackets and may have fitted a few for 5-bale apparel.
While water wasn’t the problem it was in previous years due to the drought, weather did play a factor in some crops as almonds have seen back-to-back challenges during the springtime pollination period. Even as more acres of almonds were harvested in Fresno and Kings counties, yields were down slightly. Still, acreage made up the difference as total production in both counties was higher.