For the fourth consecutive year crop values in Tulare County, Calif. were up slightly, though still short of their 2014 record when the all-milk price moved the county into the No. 1 spot in the nation. That was not the case for 2019 as farm production in the region moved gross agricultural output to $7.51 billion, an increase of 4 percent from the previous year.
Dairy production remains solidly in first-place among the county's crop portfolio, even as changes in how milk production data is collected came about with the promulgation of a Federal Milk Marketing Order for California. The biggest change seen in the short term was a significant reduction in milk production reported from 2018 to 2019 because of differences in how the U.S. Department of Agriculture collects milk data, and how the California Department of Food and Agriculture did so.
Those close to how milk volume was reported to the CDFA and how the USDA reports those numbers say the state order probably got closer to actual volumes than the USDA does because the USDA only counts pooled milk in its data. Because of this, Tulare County dairy farms, as reported to the CDFA in 2018, produced over 10.9 billion pounds of milk that year. The following year the USDA listed county production at 9.8 billion pounds.
Based on that volume, dairies in the county grossed over $1.6 billion in 2019, according to the annual report.
Tulare County produces over 120 different commodities, of which 44 are each valued at more than $1 million in gross receipts. Much of the county's crop profile spans several permanent crop types, including fruit and nut crops, and grapes.
Tulare still produces the highest percentage of the state's fresh-market oranges. Navels and Valencia's last year were valued at over $919 million on $1.2 million tons of total production.
Of the various citrus varieties produced in the county, Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Tom Tucker pointed to the steady growth in tangerine acreage, now at over 30,000 for the popular easy-peel varieties. Though grower prices were 16.5 percent lower in 2019, when compared to the previous year, yields were up over 19 percent. Coupled with 8 percent more bearing acres, tangerines grossed citrus farmers over $550 million.
Lemons likewise saw an increase in producing acres throughout the county.
The popularity of tree nuts is still evident in the annual report as almonds saw a 16.3 percent uptick in bearing acres, while pistachio harvest came from 5.3 percent more acres countywide.
As an alternate bearing crop, pistachio yields in 2019 were down 6 percent across the county. Almonds moved the other direction as yields were up 7 percent. The average almond price climbed more than 10 percent to the grower that year.
Tucker pointed to a possible turn-around in table grape fortunes as growers increased their harvested acres by 3 percent. All the gains in grape plantings in 2019 were accounted for in the fresh table varieties as raisins plantings remained flat and wine grape plantings were off by more than 25 percent.
"We tend to be moving back to more permanent crop plantings," Tucker said of the overall farm trends in the county. Among those, he pointed to the relative success of tangerines and table grapes in 2019.
"Fresh grapes seem to have had a rough time in the past several years, but they seem to be rebounding," he continued.
Nearly half of the county's orange crop and about 20 percent of the region's table grapes were exported in 2019. South Korea bought 42 percent of the county's orange crop while Japan took another 27 percent of the fresh-market oranges grown there. Grape exports are more evenly spread across 10 different countries with Vietnam serving as the leading destination at 16 percent of the crop.
About 9 percent of the county's pistachio crop and 4 percent of its almond crop were exported last year. In all, 96 different countries purchased agricultural commodities produced in Tulare County in 2019. South Korea, Japan and China were the top three destinations for those exports.