The San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures announced the release of the 2015 production statistics for the local agricultural industry this past week.. Statistics can be found on the Department’s website at www.slocounty.ca.gov/agcomm.
Total gross crop values for 2015 are $828,800,000. “This 8% decline in value compared to 2014 is directly attributable to the cumulative impacts of the ongoing drought”, according to Martin Settevendemie, County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer. Settevendemie cautioned the statistics only represent commodity gross values and do reflect net profits received by producers. Also, reported values do not include multipliers related to secondary economic benefits to the community.
The top ten commodities ranked by value for 2015 were: 1. Strawberries, 2. Wine Grapes, 3. Cattle, 4. Broccoli, 5.Vegetable Transplants, 6. Cut Flowers, 7. Head Lettuce, 8. Leaf Lettuce, 9. Avocados, and 10. Lemons.
For the second year in a row, strawberries were the top valued crop. Strawberries benefitted from dry weather conditions that plagued other crops. Over 3,400 acres were planted, meeting the high demand for fresh and processing berries.
Wine grapes were ranked number two in value. Unusually cool spring temperatures and strong winds caused grape blossoms to shatter before the fruit was set on the vines. This severely reduced yield, resulting in a 31% drop in production for wine grapes, compared to 2014. Despite prices remaining favorable, the value for all wine grapes decreased 28% compared to 2014.
Avocado trees continued to be stumped throughout the county in 2015. Stumping is a cultural practice that reduces the leaf canopy and water demand of trees when there is a lack of water for irrigation. It will take a few years for avocado trees to rebound once normal rainfall returns.
Dryland farmed walnut trees were especially hard hit by the continued drought. Loss of half century old trees and low yields contributed to an overall 25% reduction in value compared to 2014.
Vegetable crops were in high demand in 2015, due to reduced production throughout California’s drought stricken vegetable production areas. This is reflected in the strong prices for most vegetable varieties. However, an overall 6% reduction in harvested acreage was reported. It was also reported some fields were left fallow due to lack of irrigation water and insufficient farm labor. Overall, the value for all vegetables increased 10% compared to 2014.
The impact of the drought to cattle production was dramatic. Lack of forage on grazing land forced the sale of cattle beginning in 2013. By 2015, herd sizes had been significantly reduced and the number of cattle sold in 2015 was less than half the number sold in 2014. The total value for the Animal category plunged 48% compared to 2014.
Grain and hay growers who ventured to plant a crop amidst a severe drought were rewarded with solid yields as the late spring rains helped to maintain production. However, prices were down, a reflection of the decreased demand for feed due to the reduction in livestock numbers statewide. The total value for field crops dropped 7% below 2014 values.
Water use restrictions that went into place across California in 2015 created mixed results for nursery stock producers. Succulents and other drought tolerant plants remained popular. A slight rebound in housing construction created an increased demand for drought tolerant landscape plants. The resulting 19% rebound in value over 2014 restored production values closer to historic levels.
“Agriculture continued to be a significant economic contributor in 2015 and represents a central component of the rural character enjoyed by the local community, and a dependable source of high quality food and products for consumers around the world. Despite challenging drought and unusual weather during 2015, agriculture in San Luis Obispo County remains strong”, explained Settevendemie. With over one hundred different crops produced in the county, this diversity provides for stability when growing conditions become challenging.
Statistics of the local agricultural industry featured in Annual Reports for 1928 through 2015 can be viewed at www.slocounty.ca.gov/agcomm .