Tulare County reports $5.6B in ag value last year

Dairy in Tulare CountyDairy in Tulare CountyMilk continued as Tulare County’s top gross value commodity in 2011, according to the just released Tulare County Annual Crop and Livestock Report.

The county agricultural commissioner’s office presented the report to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on July 24.

Dairy and livestock producers also had a high-value year, raking in $615.9 million in 2011 for a 10 percent increase over 2010.

Total gross value for milk hit $3.05 billion for a 28 percent increase over 2012. Overall, Tulare County took in a total gross value amount of $5.6 billion, up 16 percent from 2010.

Milk represents 37 percent of all crops and livestock values for 2011.

In terms of planted acreage in 2011, navel oranges covered the most area with 76,000 bearing acres. Almonds were a distant second at 31,800 acres.

Somewhat surprisingly, walnuts were third at 31,500 acres followed by table grapes at 31,300 acres and pistachios at 29,600 acres.

Although milk topped the value list, it didn’t translate to big profits for all of the county’s dairy farmers. Although wholesale milk prices were considered good for the seller, feed prices paid by dairies continued at record-high levels and cost of environmental regulations compliance grew as well.

In addition, dairies paid interest on money dairymen borrowed during 2008 to 2010, just to stay afloat, said Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of Western United Dairymen in Modesto.

“Dairies are struggling,” Marsh said, adding that 20 percent of California’s dairies have closed down in the last five years.

Cost of feeding the cows is a big part of the problem. Prices for alfalfa hay, corn, soybean meal and cottonseed rose substantially in 2011.

Consequently, Tulare County field crops saw the greatest percentage gain in gross value, jumping 34 percent and reaching $615.9 million. Demand and higher pricing for alfalfa and other field crops by dairies helped to boost field crop values.

Alfalfa hay garnered a gross value of $170 million in 2011, compared to about $81 million in 2010.

Gross value of cotton jumped sharply from $28.6 million in 2010 to $47.8 million in 2011, mostly because of grater acreage planted. One exception to higher-valued field crops was wheat for grain, which fell in gross value from $31.6 million in 2010 to $19.9 million in 2011 as both acreage and per-acre production declined.

Fruit and nut commodities held strong at a value of $2.2 billion, an increase of 5 percent over the previous year. Marilyn Kinoshita, agricultural commissioner, said modest price gains for fruits and nuts accounted for the increased value.

Almonds saw a big jump from a gross value of $98.2 million in 2010 to $128.4 million in 2011. Cherries were produced in high numbers in 2011, providing a gross value of $33.2 million, compared to 17.6 million the previous year.

Whole olives took a tumble, falling form a gross value of $74.1 million in 2010 to $23.3 million in 2011. Production per acre fell off substantially, causing the value drop.

Despite production declines, higher prices helped tangerine values in 2011. Value of the crop hit $133.7 million, compared to $115.4 million in 2010.

Gross value of nursery products only gained 2 percent to $65.7 million in 2011. “This minor increase is a refection of the continuing uncertainties in both the housing and agricultural markets,” Kinoshita said.

Harvested vegetable acreage continues to decline in Tulare County and in 2011 gross value of vegetable crops dropped 4 percent to $19.5 million.

The 2011 crop report covers more than 120 commodities and Kinoshita pointed out that Tulare County’s agricultural strength is based on the diversity of crops produced.