Kings County Crop Production Declines Over 18% in 2015

After a record year in 2014, ag prices in Kings County took a beating last year, decreasing in value by more than 18%.

“A lot of that has to do with commodity prices,” explained Kings County Ag Commissioner Tim Niswander, who presented the 2015 Agricultural Crop Report to the county board of supervisors at its June 28 meeting.

“The gross value of all agricultural crops and products produced during 2015 in Kings County was $2,021,052,000,” he wrote in the introduction to the report. “This represents a decrease of $450,694,000 (18.2%) from the 2014 value.”

Livestock and poultry products had the biggest decrease in value (32.6%) as the result of lower milk prices. Livestock and poultry, however, showed the biggest increase last year, up 23.2% due to higher beef prices.

Apiary products increased in value last year by 43.3%, even though both beeswax and honey decreased in production, because pollination for tree fruit, nuts and seed alfalfa all did well. Colony collapse disorder, which threatens the bee population and the many crops that depend on pollination to survive, may be responsible for these positive numbers.

“Probably what’s driving pollination (prices) up is the lower number of bees,” said Niswander. “It probably has a lot to do with why beeswax and honey might have declined.”

Other products showing an increase in value in 2015 included pasture range (182.75%), oat silage (130.47%), cherries (101.28%), and wheat grain (37.91%). Most of these crops benefitted from an increase in acreage, although higher prices and an increase in rainfall were also factors.

Field crops declined by 20.3% to less than $99 million, due to lower prices for hay and pima cotton. Although cotton hasn’t been Kings County’s top ag product since the mid-90s, the county is still the top cotton producer in the state, according to Niswander.

“Cotton prices being what they are, we’re seeing some growers plant crops like walnuts and almonds instead,” he said, adding that local cotton prices fluctuate because of world prices for cotton.

Other crops declining in value in 2015 included walnuts (-41.03%) and pistachios (-37.02%). Walnuts were hit by a price decrease of nearly 49%, while pistachio production was impacted by the lack of chilling hours.

Following the presentation, Supervisor Craig Pedersen asked Niswander about the affect the drought had on last year’s numbers.

“I would say the drought has impacted some of what has been grown in the county, but I don’t know that our county is impacted as much as Fresno County,” Niswander said.

A down year for ag is bad news for the rest of the county. The University of California at Davis conducted a study several years ago that attempted to determine how much ag affects the local economy.

“For everything except dairy, for every dollar growth in ag there is $3.50 in growth in the local economy,” said Niswander. “If the numbers still have the same ratio as they did when the study was done, for every dollar growth in dairy, there is an increase of $10.50 in the local economy. That’s because there are so many more people involved with sustaining a dairy.”

With the record year of 2014 and the down year of 2015, Niswander was asked how 2016 is shaping up.

“I don’t think we have anymore acreage in production than last year,” he said. “We have more farmland but we don’t have enough water to go around.”

However, he noted that the weather so far this year has been helpful. “There were more chill hours than in the previous year,” he said.

The Kings County 2015 Agricultural Crop Report is accessible at www.countyofkings.com/home/showdocument?id=13237.

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