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Overall crop value down 6.4 percent in county


Last updated 1/8/2017 at Noon

Complications in the transition from in-house graphic design for San Diego County's annual crop report to utilizing a contractor delayed the release of the county's 2015 crop report until December 2016. The 6.4 percent decline in overall crop value compared to 2014 and the 6.5 percent decrease in acreage were due to actual declines rather than to a change in reporting methods.

"We haven't changed the way that we collect the data or analyze the data," said county Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures assistant director Megan Moore. "That has not changed."

Increasing water prices have challenged produce growers for years, and the recent consumer water restrictions have also created reluctance for in-state buyers to purchase nursery products which account for approximately two-thirds of the county's crop value.

"Considering those two items the 6 1/2 percent decrease does not come as much of a surprise," said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson.

The total commercial production value of agricultural crops in San Diego County was $1,701,776,951 in 2015. During 2014, San Diego County's farmers sold crops worth a total of $1,817,465,883. Agricultural acreage declined from 268,592 in 2014 to 251,147 in 2015.

Horticulture accounted for 12,702 acres and a production value of $1,182,613,913 for 2014, but the 2015 totals were 12,475 acres and $1,146,614,770 of commercial production. The 2015 production value was down 3.0 percent from 2014. The county's top three crops in terms of production value are all nursery crops and the highest-value crop, ornamental trees and shrubs, declined 6.8 percent in value from $439,178,551 to $409,500,000 while decreasing in acreage from 5,303 to 5,250. Indoor flower and foliage plants were down from $363,703,937 for 2014 to $344,167,450 in 2015 while declining in acreage from 863 to 858. Bedding plants decreased in total value from $228,466,067 to $215,425,000 and in acreage from 1,318 to 1,231.

The category of other cut flower products dropped from ninth to tenth in rank and from $43,320,222 to $37,998,381 in value.

Larson attributes the horticultural drop to the water shortage which has led to the restrictions.

"It's making some folks hesitant to purchase plants," said Larson. "They may think twice before buying a plant that's going to require some water."

That perspective is bolstered by additional acreage and sales for cacti and other succulents, which changed in rank from eighth in 2014 to fifth in 2015 while increasing 67.3 percent in total crop value from $43,400,000 to $72,600,132 and 20.6 percent in acreage from 310 to 374.

Tomatoes were the county's 2014 crop with the fifth-highest production value, contributing $81,878,400 to the overall crop market from 25,800 tons harvested on 1,720 acres. The crop ranked seventh in 2015 as production value declined 28.3 percent to $58,666,087, tonnage decreased 28.5 percent to 18,440, and acreage dropped 27.4 percent to 1,249.

Larson attributes the decline in tomato production to the availability of land. "A lot of it is leased," he said. "Sometimes the issue of the acreage they can lease can have an impact."

That left avocados as the only produce crop among the county's top five. Avocados ranked fourth in both 2014 and 2015 and acreage only declined 0.05 percent from 18,439 to 18,344, but avocado production decreased from three to two tons per acre so tonnage decreased 27.4 percent from 59,051 to 42,905 and a drop in the value per ton from $2,607 to $2,574 caused a 28.2 percent decline in total crop value from $154,038,303 to $110,454,004.

"Avocados are very cyclical in how they produce, but nonetheless there are fewer acres of avocados," said Larson. "That's driven by the price of water. We don't attribute that to the drought. We attribute that to the cost of water."

Some agricultural acreage can be fallowed if water becomes too costly, but avocados cannot be temporarily taken out of production.

"It's a permanent crop," said Larson. "It's not like they're going to come back in production the next year. Once they exit, they exit."

Hass avocado acreage declined from 17,405 to 17,330 while yield decreased from three to two tons per acre. Tonnage of Hass avocados dropped 30.3 percent from 56,412 to 39,332 and value declined 31.3 percent from $148,466,436 to $102,060,678.

Lamb-Hass avocados were harvested on 758 acres both in 2014 and during 2015, but a yield increase from three to four tons per acre led to a 59.1 percent tonnage increase from 2,041 to 3,248 and a 70.7 percent value gain from $4,669,441 to $7,968,764.

Larson attributes the gain in Lamb-Hass avocado tonnage and value to additional acreage coming into maturity. "It's a newer variety," he said. "They increase in production over the years."

Larson expects the recent planting of high-density avocados to result in a future similar increase. "We still haven't seen the results from that, but that's going to make some changes as well," he said.

Acreage of other varietals of avocados declined from 276 in 2014 to 256 for 2015 and yield dropped from two tons to one ton per acre to account for a 49.2 percent tonnage decrease from 638 to 324 and a 53.0 percent value decline from $902,427 to $424,561.

Lemons maintained their sixth ranking despite an 8.2 percent value drop from $76,660,469 to $70,393,944. A yield decrease from 19 to 17 tons per acre resulted in a 10.8 percent tonnage decline from 69,439 to 61,912.

Total citrus tonnage declined 9.5 percent from 167,534 to 151,589 while total citrus value fell 5.7 percent from $133,573,898 to $126,023,691. The largest percentage change among citrus fruits was for kumquats, whose value dropped 49.4 percent from $1,680,000 to $850,021; despite an unchanged harvest area of 84 acres the yield decrease from four to three tons per acre resulted in a decline from 336 to 252 tons and the value per ton decreased from $5,000 to $3,373.

Chicken market eggs declined 9.3 percent in value from $45,244,848 to $40,998,221, causing that crop's rank to fall from seventh to eighth. The quantity of eggs decreased 15.2 percent from 35,577,960 dozen to 30,186,000 dozen.

"We needed to expect a reduction in the amount of eggs produced because of Proposition 2," said Larson.

The state's voters passed Proposition 2 in the 2008 election. The law requires commercial poultry to have enough room in their cages to extend their limbs fully and turn around without obstacles. That requirement became effective on January 1, 2015, so farmers had until the end of 2014 to achieve compliance and many egg farmers reduced their flocks so that the remaining birds could have the legally-mandated space. In 2013 San Diego County poultry farms marketed 63,064,255 dozen chicken eggs.

Larson noted that the number of egg farmers has not increased, nor has the size of their farms. "The ones that are there are going to end up with fewer chickens to create the space required by Proposition 2," he said.

The number of market chickens declined 21.0 percent from 86,200 to 68,098 and the value of market chickens dropped 28.3 percent from $5,446,116 to $3,906,608.

Strawberries ranked tenth in 2014 with $37,950,000 of production value and ninth in 2015 with a total value of $38,360,941.

The fruit crop with the largest percentage decline was apples, whose total value decreased 51.8 percent from $804,164 to $387,272. Although acreage decreased only 9.1 percent from 254 to 231, the yield dropped from two tons to one ton per acre and tonnage fell 54.5 percent from 508 to 231.

"Apples require a certain number of chill hours to set fruit," Larson said. "The last couple of winters haven't experienced as much cold as previously."

Although miscellaneous berries only declined in acreage from 320 to 317 and tonnage only fell from 2,878 to 2,853 with the yield of nine tons per acre remaining the same, the decrease in the price per ton from $12,660 to $9,800 resulted in a 25.3 percent drop in value from $36,441,430 to $27,962,046.

"We're getting more and more berries coming in from Mexico," said Larson. "They're competing with our growers here."

Wine grape acreage increased from 923 to 969, but yield dropped from five to three tons per acre so tonnage declined 31.5 percent from 4,246 to 2,907. The price of wine grapes per ton declined from $1,547 to $1,456 to create a 35.6 percent decrease in total value from $6,568,253 to $4,232,592.

"The acreage is still going up," Larson said.

The vegetable crop with the largest decline was cucumbers. Acreage decreased 58.4 percent from 233 to 97, yield fell from twelve to nine tons per acre, tonnage declined 68.9 percent from 2,796 to 870, and despite in increase in price from $484 to $592 per ton the total value dropped 61.9 percent from $1,353,264 to $515,218.

"All you need is one grower making a difference and all of a sudden you have a lot less," Larson said.

Larson noted that the small number of growers was also likely a factor in the kumquat decrease.

"You only have a few growers doing it," said Larson. "Cropping decisions and things like that can make a big difference. It doesn't take much of a swing for them to make a big change."

Crop rotation accounts for some fluctuations. Only one farmer in San Diego County grows potatoes commercially. "That grower will rotate in and out," Larson said.

Potato acreage declined from 294 to 257 with the yield dropping from 16 to 6 tons per acre, which created a 67.8 percent total production decrease from 4,631 to 1,491 tons. An increase in the price per ton from $27 to $511 allowed the crop value to increase 361.0 percent from $171,838 to $762,159. "That is a crazy increase in the price per ton," Larson said.

The local crop with the largest drop was oat hay, which decreased in value 72.8 percent from $1,461,860 to $396,896. Acreage declined 47.0 percent from 3,847 to 2,038, yield was down from two tons to one ton per acre, tonnage fell 68.2 percent from 7,694 to 2,446, and the price per ton dropped from $190 to $162.

Additional producers are the explanation for the value increase in apiary products between 2014 and 2015. Total apiary production value increased 77.5 percent from $2,281,956 to $4,051,385. The apiary crop with the largest numerical increase was pollination services, which rose in value 50.0 percent from $2,128,808 to $3,193,075. The highest percentage gain for any of the county's crops was beeswax, whose value rose 866.7 percent from $2,575 to $25,900. Honey increased 452.8 percent in value from $150,573 to $832,410.

Market milk production value declined 31.6 percent from $10,061,000 to $6,880,000, although that was due to the decline in price per 100 pounds from $23 to $16 rather than the decline in production from 44,427,900 to 43,753,800 pounds.

"If the price of milk drops, that's a huge change," said Larson.

The 29.4 percent increase in the production value of cattle is most likely due to the price, which increased from $207 to $275 per 1,000 pounds. The number of head actually declined from 11,100 to 10,800 while the weight decreased from 9,900,000 to 9,810,000 pounds.

"Cattle will come and go depending on the availability of grazing land and the amount of grass out there," said Larson.

A drop in the price per 100 pounds of hogs and pigs from $74 to $50 resulted in a 36.9 percent drop in value from $237,225 to $162,500. Hog production decreased slightly from 1,391 to 1,300 head with total weight dropping from 347,800 to 325,000 pounds.


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