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Value of dairy production in Kings County closes in on 1 billion
<p>Milk production eclipsed all other values in Kings County, Calif. in 2014 on prices that remained in record territory for much of the year.</p>

High-value commodities tied to record county farm values

Dairy remains cream of the crops in Kings County Napa sees new record value on strong grape prices Tree nuts continue to be high-value crop for California growers

It is crop report season again in California; the time of year when county agriculture commissioners yield a harvest of numbers that for some regions are truly astounding.

Two large Ag-producing counties – Kings in the San Joaquin Valley and Napa on the North Coast – opened the season by reporting record gross receipts for 2014.

Kings County

Kings County agricultural values advanced 9 percent from the previous year’s figure to over $2.47 billion, due primarily to strong commodity prices for dairy, tree nuts and processing tomatoes.

That number, as with all other county reports, is a gross dollar figure commonly called the “farm gate” value, meaning that is the gross amount farmers and ranchers were paid for their particular commodities. It does not reflect profit.

Milk accounts for over 39 percent of Kings County’s total Ag value at over $970 million. This came as milk prices paid to producers remained in record territory of over $20 per hundredweight (cwt) in California and across the United States for nearly the entire year.

By comparison, goat milk averaged $36 per cwt in 2014, down 50 cents from the previous year.

Total milk production for cows and goats in 2014 was just over 4.3 billion pounds, an increase of 4 percent, or 186 million pounds over the previous year.

Tree nuts were the oft-talked about commodity as the big three – almonds, pistachios and walnuts – each remained in record-high territory. Processing tomatoes also saw a significant boost in average price when compared with the previous year.

At over $7,100 per ton on average, almonds were the highest paid of the three nut crops, reflecting a 29.3 percent jump in price compared to the previous year.

Pistachio prices jumped more than 17 percent to over $5,700 per ton as about 1,000 more acres were harvested from in 2014. Bearing acreage is expected to increase over time in pistachios as there has been a push lately to plant the crop in many regions of California.

Walnut prices remained statistically flat on acreage that was unchanged from the previous year.

Average yield for walnuts was up slightly while pistachio yield was unchanged during the period. Almond yield was down slightly in the county as statewide the total yield also fell somewhat. Drought and chilling hours remain the two largest factors in almond and pistachio production declines.

Processing tomato yields were up about 10 tons per acre on average to nearly 53 tons. Total yield was up over 25 percent as the price per ton rose 19 percent to over $80 per ton. Harvested acres were up less than 2 percent over the previous year as the canneries have sought additional tonnage through contracts with growers.

Kings County has long led California in cotton production, though that is not what is making much money for producers there. As in the rest of the cotton-producing regions of California, cotton acreage continues to drop in the face of higher-value crops and a severe shortfall of irrigation water. Lackluster cotton prices haven’t motivated growers to plant cotton either.

Total cotton acreage in Kings County was down 27 percent on the year to just over 75,000 as lint prices fell 20 percent in Acala and rose 4.5 percent for Pima varieties.

Stone fruit does well

Fruit crops saw mixed results on the year in terms of yield and prices. Most notably was the 73 percent spike in cherry prices as 2014 was effectively deemed a “crop failure” for farmers. Many growers did not bear a cherry crop at all. Countywide, the crop was 70 percent smaller than the previous year.

Another significant stone fruit mover was nectarines – up over 49 percent in price on a crop that was almost 17 percent lighter than the previous year.

Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association, said nectarine growers did well under the stabilization of prices when compared to previous years and the lack of competing fruit.

Peaches were mixed as freestone growers (fresh peaches) were paid over 44 percent more on a crop that was about 1 percent lighter; cling (canning) peach prices were down 13 percent on a crop that was about 8 percent heavier.

Harvested acres of grapes was little changed in the county as the biggest news was the 11.3 percent drop in wine grape prices in 2014 on what was a lighter wine grape crop spread over more acres.

Raisin tonnage was unchanged on a price $10 per ton less than the previous year. Table grape yield was up slightly on almost 100 fewer acres harvested.

The Kings County Crop Report is available online.

Napa County

Known primarily for its wine grapes, Napa ventured into record territory on a year that saw grape tonnage and yield remain basically flat under what Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark termed “favorable growing conditions.”

Red wine grape varieties out number white varieties by about 3:1, according to the crop report. Top varieties by bearing acres include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites.

As the leading red variety, Cabernet Sauvignon saw its per-ton price rise to over $5,700 in 2014 from about $5,200 the previous year and just over $5,000 in 2013.

Though Chardonnay grapes lead plantings in white varieties, the highest price for white wine grapes was paid for Rousanne grapes at over $3,700 per ton. This is down from just over $4,300 in 2013 and over $5,000 the year before.

For the latest on western agriculture, please check out Western Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

Though 2014 was marked by a large earthquake in Napa County, the temblor did not impact agricultural production at all, Clark said. The effects instead were felt by wineries damaged in the quake and their ability to move grapes through facilities, which were being harvested at the time the quake hit.

Visit the Napa County Agriculture Commissioner’s web site for a link to the 2014 crop report.

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