Tulare County remains nation’s top producer in milk, agriculture export leader
By Reggie Ellis
TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County finished as the runner-up for total crop value in 2017 in California, but still led the nation in milk production and agricultural exports.
On Sept. 18, Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner Marilyn Wright presented the 2017 Annual Crop Report to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. Tulare County’s total gross production value for 2017 was $7.039 billion, which represents an increase of $669 million or 10.5% increase over 2016’s value. Later in the week, Kern County reported its total value at $7.254 billion securing the top spot of ag producing counties in California and Fresno County finished in third with $7.028 billion. Last year was the third highest agriculture value in the last 20 years behind $8 billion in 2014 and $7.3 billion in 2013.
Tulare County’s agricultural strength is based on the diversity of the crops produced. The 2017 report covers more than 120 different commodities, 53 of which have a gross value in excess of $1,000,000. Although individual commodities may experience difficulties from year to year, Tulare County continues to produce high-quality crops that provide food and fiber to more than 80 countries throughout the world. The County also benefits from being centrally located between the port cities of Long Beach, Oakland and Stockton and has easy highway and railroad accessibility Long Beach, Oakland and Stockton and has easy highway and railroad accessibility for the movement of crops.
Despite being second in total value in the state, Tulare County continues to be the top dairy producing county in the nation. Milk, which represents a quarter of the county’s agriculture value, had a total gross value of $1.7 billion last year, an increase of 8%. Wright said the value of milk and the number of cows increased despite the loss of 13 dairies in 2017.
Tulare County also remains the top exporting county in the nation. According to the Crop Report, Tulare County staff issued more than 30,000 federal phytosanitary certificates, which certify that a product is free from disease and pests prior to being exported. Oranges remained the top export commodity representing more than 47% of Tulare County exports, followed by grapes (21%), pistachios (8.9%) and almonds (6.8%). Much of the citrus is being exported to China and Korea.
Tulare County was also the second highest producer of table grapes in the state. The value of grapes increased by more than $300 million in 2017 which, along with pistachios, increased fruit and nut crops by more than half a billion. Fruit and Nut commodities were valued at $3.8 billion, representing an increase of 18.1%, helped by price and acreage increases for grapes and peaches-freestone. More than 3,000 acres of table grapes and nearly 1,000 acres of peaches were brought into production last year.
“Table grapes had a spectacular year,” Wright said.
The supervisors asked about concerns over the health of the bee industry, which provides pollination services to farmers. The primary concern is colony collapse disorder, where pollinating worker bees disappear and leave behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees. Wright said bees are an extremely political issue with farmers not wanting cross pollination of crops and beekeepers wanting to make sure their bees have access to orchards in order to make honey. Despite concerns of colony collapse and claims that bees are not being allowed to pollinate, apiary products increased by $23 million last year thanks to a nearly 200,000 pound increase in honey production and a 115,000 increase in the number of bees pollinating.
The only downsides to the report came in field crops, such as hay, grain, corn and cotton and livestock and poultry, including cattle, sheep and chicken. Livestock and poultry’s gross value of $701 million represents a decrease of 5.5% below 2016, mostly due to lower per unit value for cattle and a decrease in the head count of poultry. Field crops saw a 7.8% decrease in overall value, a difference of $40 million, due to more than 73,000 acres being taken out of production. Chairman Steve Worthley said he expected the loss of field crops to continue as the state continues toward implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SiGMA). Under SiGMA, groundwater basins in California have until 2040 to ensure they are recharging more water than they are withdrawing. Groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley, where most of the state’s citrus is grown, have been severely overdrawn for the last 30 years.
Wright said many corn growers have already switched to sorgum because is uses half as much water but only offers about half of the nutrients, a trade off that must be made in areas affected by drought.
“I am always amazed at the resiliency of farmers,” Worthley said.
Wright said she is more concerned with what will become of fallowed farm land when farmers are not allowed to irrigate their field crops. “I hope the fallowed ground doesn’t become infested with weeds and pests,” she said.