Tulare County crop report shows gains in 2018

Dairy, citrus, grapes remain at the top 

Kaitlin Washburn  @kwashy12

TULARE COUNTY – In 2018, Tulare County agriculture fared well overall, increasing in value by 2.5 percent, according to last year’s crop report. 

The industry valued at $7.2 billion in 2018. In general, Tulare County’s agricultural strength is partly thanks to the diverse types of crops in the county. 

“Overall, I think it was a positive year for agriculture in Tulare County,” said Tom Tucker, the Tulare County agricultural commissioner.  

Dairy, citrus and grapes continue to bring in the most cash for Tulare County. Milk, which remains the leading commodity for the county, valued $1.6 billion in 2018 and represented 23.5 percent of total crop and livestock value. 

While oranges and grapes remain major commodities for the county, they both went down in value in 2018. Citrus — navel and valencia oranges, tangerines, lemons and grapefruit — valued at $980 million. Oranges alone represent $821 million. Grapes are also a major crop, bringing in $834 million, according to the crop report.

Those dips are mainly due to changes in the market for those products, Tucker said. Table grapes in particular saw a decrease in 2018 after a few nice years prior. 

Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual, said the 2017-2018 season was a record year for citrus. The success from 2018 didn’t continue this recent season, which saw a decrease thanks to an off-season for the crop and significant impacts from the tariffs imposed on China, Creamer said. 

“It’s cyclical, but the cycle has been too high and too low, and growers have been looking for a return to normalcy,” Creamer said.

The harvest season for citrus goes from October to May. In May of this year, the industry finished the 2018-2019 season.

The increase in tangerine production has been a trend for the last few years as growers continue to respond to market demands. But the market has reached its peak, as far as acres go, Creamer said.  

Total acreage increased overall for the county. Looking at permanent planting, acreage increased by more than 35,000 acres, which is significant, Tucker said. The total value for field crops also went up. 

Some of that is attributed to the nonbearing acreage that moved on to bearing. Bearing acreage means a crop is ready to be harvested and sold on the market that year, while nonbearing is newly planted crops that won’t bear any produce.  

One of the most notable findings of the crop report, Tucker said, is the increase in value for nut commodities. Pecans, walnuts and pistachios all increased in value from 2017 to 2018. 

Fruit and nut commodities valued at $4.1 billion, saw a 5.7 percent increase, which is partially attributed to an increase in blueberry, pistachio and tangerine acreage.  

Nursery products also substantially increased in value at 47 percent. Those crops, which include ornamental trees and shrubs used in landscaping, valued $57.3 million.

Not every crop improved from 2017 to 2018. Vegetable crops, which experienced a 15.9 percent decrease, totaled $17.2 million. 

One reason for the increase in nut commodities and decrease in vegetable crops in 2018 is growers are turning toward less labor intensive crops, mainly due to the ongoing labor shortage happening in agriculture, Tucker said. 

“This is why we’ve seen an increase in nuts and citrus production as opposed to some of the vegetable crops that takes a lot of hand labor,” Tucker said. “The difference with nuts and citrus is there’s a lot more mechanization for nuts and citrus can hang on the tree for longer after it has ripened, so that widens the harvest window.”

Two key issues yet to impact the county’s crop report are recently imposed tariffs and the full implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). 

The 2018 crop report doesn’t show the effects of the tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump, specifically those imposed on exports to China, one of Tulare County’s main agriculture customers. 

“Unfortunately, those tariffs will have an effect in 2019,” Tucker said. 

SGMA’s impact, once fully implemented, will be felt throughout the ag industry. 

“[SGMA] will be a tough one for our growers as we move into implementing groundwater management plans,” Tucker said. “The bottom line is we have some very big challenges ahead of us, and water is where it all starts and you can’t grow anything without water.” 

Tulare County’s crops are shipped to more than 90 countries. South Korea, China, Japan, Mexico and Ecuador were the top five countries for receiving exports in 2018. Oranges and grapes are the top exported commodities, oranges represent 50 percent and grapes make up 23.7 percent. 

South Korea receives 42 percent of Tulare County’s exported oranges. China takes 27 percent and Japan takes 16 percent. 

Of the top ag counties in California, Tulare County came in third. Tucker said that one reason is as the state came out of the drought in 2017, the surface water supplies for Fresno and Kern counties increased just from rain storage and snow run off. 

Kern County in particular was able to plant a lot of their crops that they couldn’t plant without water, Tucker said. Which explains why their crop reports increased substantially in 2018. 

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