Agricultural values are shrinking significantly across California’s billion-dollar plus farm counties, according to the latest round of county crop reports released early this fall.
Kings and Stanislaus counties saw agricultural values in 2015 fall 18.2 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Losses in both locations can be attributed to the drought and reduced water deliveries by state and federal water regulators, though agricultural commissioners in both locations cite lower commodity values for part of the decline.
Gross agricultural receipts in 2015 were down to their lowest level since 2010 when farm values were under $2 billion. The following year the county reached a then-record $2.2 billion. The 2015 value was $2.02 billion.
Though “king” among California’s cotton-producing counties, the fiber crop has long since ceded its crown to livestock and milk production as lint production continues to fall across the Golden State.
No other California county produces as much cotton as Kings County. In 2015, growers harvested cotton from 69,742 acres, producing 215,810 bales of Pima and Acala varieties. This is off from the 237,171 bales of cotton produced from 75,063 acres the previous year.
In both years, Pima varieties significantly outpaced Acala varieties in total yield.
Cotton production is largely credited with building Central Valley agriculture into the powerhouse it has become, funding everything from agricultural water delivery systems to expansion efforts into vegetable crops and trees. Based on five-year numbers recorded in the Kings County report, it would appear the house has seen better days.
Cotton comparisons to 50 years ago show a couple things. In 1965, cotton fell under just one category in the crop report as farmers grew only short-staple cotton. Today the crop report breaks out lint by Pima and Acala, and by Pima seed production.
Cotton yields in 1965 averaged 2.18 bales per acre, when cotton was No. 2 in value behind alfalfa production. In 2015, cotton farmers yielded an average of 3.43 bales per acre.
Like neighboring Tulare County with its large dairy herd, California’s dismal milk prices were largely responsible for dragging down the livestock and poultry section of the Kings County crop report by nearly 33 percent in 2015, according to Kings County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Niswander.
Milk remains the single-largest valued commodity produced in Kings County, with a 2015 value of $651.7 million. This is considerably off from the record prices in 2014, where dairy producers were paid over $970.3 million for milk produced.
Total milk production was also off by volume, down 3.3 percent to 4.27 billion pounds. That includes milk from cows and goats.
Field crop acreage since 2011 has declined 12.4 percent to just over 628,000 acres while vegetable acreage is off about 1,200 acres to just over 40,000.
Some of that acreage has been replaced by fruit and nut crops. That category since 2011 increased over 20 percent to more than 76,000 acres.
Almond and pistachio acreage is up year-over-year in the county. Almonds saw a 2,000 acre increase from 2014 in harvested acres as harvested pistachio acreage climbed nearly the same amount.
Total pistachio yields were off over 41 percent in 2015 due to the poor winter chill and water conditions. This was a problem statewide. Pistachios accounted for more than $50 million of the $450 million in total agricultural losses seen in 2015.
Almonds fared a little better under slightly stronger prices and a total yield that was up slightly. While almond meat values were up slightly, hull prices were off significantly. Shell prices were up slightly on the year.
Agricultural land use in Kings County continues to shrink, according to Niswander’s report. Since 2012 prime farmland acreage is off more than 6,000 to about 112,000 while farmland of statewide importance and unique farmland categories were also down considerably.
Last year Kings County crops were exported to dozens of countries on several continents, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The single-largest export partner for Kings County products was Japan.
The Kings County Crop Report is available online.
At the other end of the San Joaquin Valley where urban pressures have a much larger impact on commercial agriculture, Stanislaus County likewise reports double-digit percentage losses in farm values from the previous year.
Like Kings County, Stanislaus is off from a record value of just one year earlier of $4.3 billion. Crop values in 2015 totaled $3.87 billion.
Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner Milton O’Haire blames a reduction in yields across many commodities due to sustained drought and water availability, and decreased values in milk, walnuts, almonds, silage, cattle and calves, and turkeys.
According to O’Haire, over 20,000 acres of county farmland was fallowed in 2015 because of the drought and curtailed water deliveries.
Several years ago almonds replaced milk as the most valuable commodity produced in Stanislaus County. In 2015 the gross value of almonds ($1.29 billion) was twice the value dairy producers were paid for their milk ($647.8 million).
Acreage counts in almonds grew to over 177,000 in 2015, with yields off slightly from the previous year.
Walnuts, another popular nut crop in the county, saw acreage declines of about 1,000 as walnut prices were nearly halved from the previous year.
Total milk production was down slightly at just over 4.17 billion pounds on the year.
Stanislaus County is also a big producer of poultry and poultry products. The number of chickens produced increased 4.5 percent while turkey production was off 55 percent.
Chicken egg production was down almost 14 percent to more than 29.1 million dozen. Egg producers reported a 43 percent increase in the unit costs of chicken eggs in 2015.
According to O’Haire, Stanislaus County is the single-largest producer in the state of apricots, at 42 percent of the statewide total. It is also first in dry bean production at 20 percent of the state total, and first in turkey production with 36 percent of state turkey volume.
Stanislaus produces over 14 percent of the state’s almond crop, making it third behind Kern County (20 percent) and Fresno County (19 percent).
Stanislaus County food exports were shipped to dozens of countries worldwide, including Asia, Central America, Australia, South America, Europe and Africa.
The Stanislaus County Crop Report can be found online.