County crop value up 2.6 percent, acreage stabilizes

The total commercial production value of agricultural crops in San Diego County was $1,746,623,682 in 2016, a 2.6 percent increase from the 2015 total of $1,701,776,951.

“It was very encouraging to see a 45 million increase in total gross dollars,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson.

The 2016 total crop value was still below the 2014 figure of $1,817,465,883. The 2016 agricultural acreage of 250,720 constitutes a decrease of 0.2 percent from the 2015 figure of 251,147 acres.

“I thought it was encouraging to see acreage remain flat,” Larson said.

Changes may be due to reporting issues rather than to actual crop fluctuations. The county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures sends surveys to farmers, and data from industry groups helps to make up for uncompleted surveys. Crop rotation can also account for fluctuations.

“That number can just be a measurement issue,” Larson said of the decrease in acreage.

The top seven crops in 2015 maintained their rankings for the 2016 crop report. Horticulture, which accounted for $1,146,814,770 of commercial production on 12,475 acres in 2015 and $1,233,942,000 of crop value on 12,356 acres last year, includes four of the top five and five of the top 10 crops in terms of commercial value. In 2015, ornamental trees and shrubs had a value of $409,500,000, indoor flower and foliage plants were marketed for a total of $344,167,450, and bedding plants provided $215,425,000 of the county’s crop value. The 2016 figures were $436,817,000 for ornamental trees and shrubs, $362,925,000 for indoor flowering and foliage plants, and $239,070,000 for bedding plants.

Cacti and other succulents ranked fifth in both years with total crop values of $72,600,132 in 2015 and $82,958,000 for 2016. The total acreage for succulent crops was 374 in 2015 and 438 in 2016.

“People are looking for more water-thrifty plants,” Larson said. “That’s driving the market. People are very interested in those things now.”

The category of other cut flowers ranked eighth in 2016 with a total value of $42,200,000. The 2015 figure of $37,998,381 ranked tenth.

Produce and nut crops accounted for $467,253,917 of production and 38,344 acres in 2015 and $448,692,815 of crop value and 36,729 acres in 2016. Avocados, which ranked fourth among all crops, increased in total value from $110,454,004 in 2015 to $136,225,815 for 2016. Total avocado acreage dropped from 18,344 to 17,741 and the price per ton decreased from $2,574 to $2,350, but tonnage increased from 42,905 to 57,962.

The cyclical production of avocado trees can result in yield changes; the 2015 tonnage was a decline from the 59,051 tons harvested in 2014. “Avocados are alternate bearing,” Larson said.

The Hass varietal of avocado accounted for 17,330 acres, 39,332 tons, and $102,060,678 of market value in 2015. The 2016 figures were 16,760 acres, 55,782 tons, and $129,792,499. Lamb-Hass avocados dropped in acreage from 758 to 733, in tonnage from 3,248 to 1,685, and in value from $7,968,764 to $5,807,966. Other avocado varietals decreased from 256 to 248 acres but increased from 234 to 495 tons and from $424,561 to $625,350 in value.

“I see a bit of stabilization on the avocado acreage,” Larson said.

Lemons maintained sixth place despite a decrease in total value from $70,343,944 to $56,875,000. The 2015 tomato crop had a value of $58,666,087 and tomatoes retained seventh place in the rankings despite a 2016 value of $43,030,000. Tomato acreage declined from 1,249 to 1,125 although a decrease in the price per ton from $3,182 to $2,550 is the primary cause of the lessened total value. The availability of land is also a significant factor in tomato production since much of the land used to grow tomatoes in San Diego County is leased.

The 2015 production value of strawberries was $38,360,941, which ranked ninth. The 2016 crop value of $18,879,000 ranks 14th. Planted strawberry acreage dropped from 487 to 290 and tonnage declined from 17,264 to 8,990.

“Strawberries have fallen off. There are labor issues, but probably more important is the tremendous amount of competition from Mexico,” Larson said.

San Diego County’s climate allowed for the marketing of strawberries before that fruit was ready in Central California growing areas. “Our niche was that early market,” Larson said. “We could get the market early and get premium prices.”

Mexico’s climate also allows for the marketing of strawberries when Central California cannot harvest them. “Mexico can do the same thing we are doing,” Larson said. “Mexico is dominating the early strawberry market.”

The former strawberry acreage was not removed from agriculture. “The strawberry ground did not go fallow. It was planted in other crops,” Larson said. “A lot of that acreage that was devoted to strawberries was this year planted in crops like tomatoes and Brussels sprouts.”

Brussels sprouts are a relatively new crop to San Diego County and are currently classified as part of the miscellaneous vegetables numbers.

Planted pepper acreage increased from 73 to 165 while total pepper value rose from $1,282,024 to $3,700,000. Squash was planted on 373 acres in 2015 and 400 acres last year while increasing in value from $2,323,577 to $4,200,000.

“A lot of peppers were on previous strawberry ground,” Larson said.

Oranges took over the ninth position in the 2016 crop report with a total crop value of $40,414,000. The 2015 orange crop value of $27,455,892 ranked 12th. Although acreage decreased from 6,191 to 5,965 tonnage rose from 51,920 to 82,310.

Rocket Farms, which is the largest grower of fresh herbs in California, had a farm in Oceanside but has left San Diego County. Herbs and spices accounted for 372 acres and $21,591,580 of value in 2015. The 2016 totals were 73 acres and $4,380,000.

Reported wine grape figures dropped from 969 to 930 acres, from 2,907 to 2,515 tons, and from $4,392,592 to $3,005,000 in value in part due to a decline in market price from $1,456 to $1,195 per ton.

The expansion of local wineries and of non-winery growing of wine grapes has created farms outside of American Viticultural Area boundaries (in San Diego County, the Ramona Valley and the San Pasqual Valley have such appellations) which are more likely to provide industry-wide figures for those communities, so Larson attributes the decline in acreage and yield to reporting issues. “Most of what I see out there is a continuing increase in acreage planted,” he said.

Livestock and poultry had a 2015 production value of $30,894,777 in 2015 and $20,721,000 in 2016. Livestock and poultry products declined in total value from $47,878,211 for 2015 to $36,288,000 in 2016.

Chicken market eggs ranked eighth in 2015 with a value of $40,998,221 and tenth in the 2016 crop report with a value of $29,768,000. Egg production in San Diego County decreased from 30,186,000 dozen to 27,192,480 dozen, so the size of the decrease is due to the lower market price for eggs.

The value of cattle and calves decreased from $26,713,584 to $15,841,000 even though the number of head increased from 10,800 to 10,850. The price per 100 pounds for cattle and calves dropped from $275 to $162, accounting for the decline in value.

“It has to do with the national market over which we have no control,” Larson said.

A drought in the recent past reduced the number of head of cattle in Texas, Oklahoma, and the Midwest, but better weather in those areas has allowed larger herds to be raised.

San Diego County’s three commercial dairies increased their production from 42.75 million pounds in 2015 to 43.49 million pounds in 2016, but a drop in the price of milk led to a decrease in total production value from $6,880,000 to $6,520,000.

The total value of apiary products was $4,051,385 in 2015 and $3,632,000 in 2016. Pollination services decreased in total commercial value from $3,193,075 to $2,945,000 and honey production declined from $832,410 to $660,000.

“That’s such a small number I can’t really tell. I’ve heard nothing from the bee industry about having a drop,” Larson said.

Field crops contributed $3,984,930 of the county’s total crop value in 2015 and $4,593,000 in 2016. Timber products accounted for $898,961 in 2015 and $763,867 last year.

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