When artfully arranged, cherries, cotton, and blueberries make a great representation of the American flag.
This year's cover of the annual crop and livestock report by the Kern County Department of Agriculture stylishly includes the red, white, and blue. More importantly, it illustrates the $7.7 billion in greenback created by the region's farms that multiplies across the local economy.
Kern County, Calif. sits at the south end of the fertile San Joaquin Valley and is home to about 150 different commodities. These are processed locally and regionally and sold globally. Jobs across California exist because of Kern County farms. Popular crops include almonds, fresh table grapes, fresh market citrus and pistachios. Carrots, potatoes, a host of vegetables and copious amounts of milk are produced by farmers there.
According to the Kern County Farm Bureau, agriculture supports about 170,000 jobs in the county of about 900,000 people.
The county's 2020 crop report reflects a record value of the commodities produced. It does not account for profit or loss by farmers. It merely reports the gross value of the crops they produced as they were sold off the farm.
According to Dan Sumner, agricultural economist with the University of California, the gross value reflected in Kern's crop report can be multiplied two to three times. This is seen in wages paid to farmworkers, the equipment and services purchased by farmers, and the processing of crops into food.
For big agricultural counties like Kern, Tulare and Fresno, those economic benefits can exceed $20 billion to their local economies, Sumner says. The state's economic multiplier of agricultural value of over $50 billion multiplies further. Careful accounting needs to separate processing, for example, as a large winery company in one end of the Valley may buy and process grapes from all over the state. Nevertheless, the money grossed by farmers in one county tends to fluidly move around the state to the benefit of many.
These annual reports can raise questions about "what could have been." Because annual numbers are always reported the following year, hindsight about weather, marketing and transportation challenges and other things are evident. For instance, the 2020 numbers in Kern reflected the beginning of a decline in almond pricing that will carry over into the 2021 report when it is issued next year. Therefore, if table grapes end the season on a positive economic note, it's likely they will remain the largest commodity by gross value in Kern County.
Also of note, while required by state Food and Agriculture Code, these reports are a voluntary agreement between growers and the county. Individual farm data is kept confidential as it is curated into acreage and production totals. I'm told by various county ag departments that they tend not to receive 100% participation, meaning the world may never know the true value of agriculture in any one county, or the state for that matter.