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Gross farm receipts hit record in Kern County

Todd Fitchette wfp-todd-fitchette-kern-county-agriculture-72.jpg
Grapes led all commodities in gross value in Kern County in 2020. Growers of table, wine and raisin varieties grossed over $1.45 billion for their crops on the year.
Grapes, citrus, almonds, pistachios, and dairy make up about 72% of the county's overall crop value.

Kern County farmers grossed over $7.66 billion in 2020, a record value despite headwinds caused by market slowdowns, shutdowns, and drought.

The county's five leading commodities are permanent crops. Grapes, citrus, almonds, pistachios, and dairy make up about 72% of the county's overall crop value, according to Glenn Fankhauser, agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures for the county.

The 1% growth in gross agricultural value happened as overall grape acreage – the county's leading commodity by gross value at over $1.45 billion – was off nearly 12%. Despite the reduced plantings, production gains were up slightly on the year, which helped push the overall grape value up from last year.

Table grapes remain the largest segment of the grape market in the county. Acreage in that sector was off 9.6% to 54,600.

Total table grape production was down 2.6% to 714,000 tons. Fresh market grape prices were up slightly on average to almost $2,000 per ton. This pushed the gross value of the sector to nearly $1.3 billion.

Raisin grapes saw the largest acreage decline at nearly 21% to just over 13,000 acres.

Citrus growers grossed over $1.3 billion on their crop last year. Much of that was Navel oranges and the small, easy-peel tangerine and tangelo varieties that are sold under a variety of names in the grocery stores. Over the past several years acreage of the small citrus varieties has closed in on Navel acreage, a mainstay fruit for citrus growers in the San Joaquin Valley. Last year, Kern citrus growers produced 542,000 tons of Navel oranges from just over 29,000 acres.

Growers harvested nearly 27,000 acres of the tangelo and tangerine varieties.

Almonds fell to No. 3 in value on the year, down from the top spot in 2019 for no other reason than the price paid to producers.

In 2019 almond growers averaged $2.71 per pound in gross receipts. Last year that figure fell to just over $1.94 per pound due to world oversupply.

Still, growers added about 4,000 more bearing acres of almonds in 2020. Even so, yields were off slightly compared to the previous year, which drug total production down to about 566 million pounds, or about 20% of the total U.S. almond supply.

Pistachios held their place in the top-five as one of the two in that category to post production gains on the year. Milk production was up slightly on the year.

The popularity of pistachios stems from their profitability. Their alternate bearing cycle tends to moderate world production, particularly as the U.S. gains in global prominence in world pistachio markets.

Last year Kern County growers harvested from 142,000 acres, up over 4% from the previous year. Total production measured 410 million pounds, or about 40% of the total U.S. pistachio crop.

Vegetable production was up slightly in tonnage in 2020 as the combined value of dozens of produce crops exceeded $920 million. Cotton production continued to decline, largely because of price. Growers produced just over 35,000 bales of cotton in 2020, of which over 28,000 bales came from the higher quality Pima varieties.

The county's top three export markets of China, Mexico and Japan consumed a host of products grown in the region, including grapes, tree nuts, citrus, potatoes, and carrots.

The Kern County Crop Report is available online.

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