Tulare County Tops $8 Billion in Agriculture Production

After the Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner got done presenting the county’s record-breaking production numbers, Supervisor Pete Vander Poel summed it up, “in less than 10 years Tulare County has doubled its ag value.”

Marilyn Kinoshita, agriculture commissioner, made a point to say during her presentation that, in the face of the states’ worst drought in history, this shows the resiliency of Tulare County’s farm industry.

The final numbers were presented at the Board of Supervisor’s (BOS) meeting on August 11. Tulare County most likely snagged the number one position in agriculture production again with $8,084,672,400 for the year 2014. Fresno and Kern counties, Tulare County’s two main competitors, will be reporting their numbers later this month. The production represents a $737,750,400 increase above 2013’s crop value.  The number one commodity was milk and milk products, valued at $2.5 billion, which is a half billion more than last year.  The dairy industry is doing so well because, as Kinoshita explained, “milk prices are the highest we’ve ever seen.”

The next four top producing commodities were calves and cattle, oranges, grapes and almonds. After dairy, almonds and pistachios made the greatest gains with more than $100 million increase, each. Out of the county’s 120 commodities, 42 crops brought in more than a million dollars. The $8 billion in production value represents the gross income, but not the expenses of the farmer.

Kinoshita said, Tulare County was number one in a lot of areas concerning ag, but the most significant was export. Tulare County is the number one agriculture exporting county in the country, with the number one export being citrus.

Supervisor Allen Ishida, a citrus grower himself, said that 2014 “was a tremendous year in the business” but that the industry had to pay in terms of water. There also was a massive backlog during last year’s port strike where growers couldn’t get their product to its destination.

“I see a sharp decline next year for citrus industry,” said Ishida.

After citrus, the top exporting products are grapes, pistachios and almonds. Tulare County exports to 90 countries, up from 84 last year, with the number one country being South Korea.

At a BOS meeting last year, when the Annual Ag Report was given, Supervisor Phil Cox asked Kinoshita, “How can we maintain this growth?”

“Through water storage,” Kinoshita replied. “If we have one more year without rain it will be very sad.”

But Tulare County did have one more year of drought and, to Kinoshita’s delight, managed to increase production by 10 percent.

Supervisor Steve Worthley expressed how amazed he was that the county could make so much more money with so many acres taken out of production.

“It’s hard to believe anyone could out-rank us,” he said.

Last year Tulare County came in first in agriculture production followed by Kern then Fresno. Tulare County was able to increase its production despite the drought because most of the producing land sits on top of its water source, except around Terra Bella. Farmers supplement insufficient surface water from the Tule and Kaweah Rivers by pumping groundwater. The west side of Fresno County, normally a billion-dollar producer, doesn’t have that luxury. It depends almost exclusively on surface water from the state and the federal systems, from which they received no water the past two years.

The most notable difference between 2013 and 2014 was the decrease in field crops, which resulted in an increase in permanent crops. This is a direct result of the drought and an excellent example of the regions farmers’ resiliency and their ability to adapt. Permanent crops increased by 22,689 acres and field crops decreased by 274,635 acres. Lucrative permanent crops such as pistachios didn’t just replace field crops but were planted on uncultivated land where there is reliable water.

Tulare County has all but assumed that it will be the number one agricultural producing county in the United States for the second year in a row. Fresno traditionally held that honor, but fell to third place behind Kern and Tulare counties last year. Because of the lack of water on the west side, and Kern County having much less dairy, Tulare County likely will stay number one. Kern County’s main crop is grapes, a crop that dominated the industry for a decade there and in Fresno, which always had put the counties on top.

To access the 2014 Tulare County Annual Crop and Livestock Report and previous county crop reports online, visit http://bit.ly/1JboP5p.

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