Tulare County once again came behind Kern County in ag production, while Fresno County retained the crown as the number one crop producer in the nation.
This is the second year in a row that Fresno County has taken first place with $7.7 billion agriculture production for 2019.
According to Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Mellissa Creagon, almonds continue to be the leading agricultural crop, accounting for 20% of the gross.
Creagon explained that the county’s large size definitely played a role in returning the highest numbers of production. But the real factor likely lies in the diversity of crops compared to other counties. Fresno County produces around 350 different commodities. This diversity gives the county an advantage in the marketplace.
“One commodity may have a bad year, but because of the variation it’s likely for another commodity to have a good year,” Creagon said.
Not to mention, 78 of those commodities are over the 1-million-dollar mark.
However, Fresno County’s top production wasn’t an easy accomplishment. Like many others, the county struggled with acquiring water for a long time, especially in its westlands.
There were also supply chain issues, declines in exports related to the pandemic. Food designated for restaurants also halted for a period of time.
Although these issues will reflect more on the 2020 ag report, their presence slowed Fresno County’s ability to receive the data needed for the 2019 ag report. Naturally, farmers were more concerned about their livelihood than reporting production numbers.
Then the Creek fire hit.
You wouldn’t think that a fire in the Sierra National Forest would affect an agricultural report on the Valley floor, but much of the staff that were in charge of the crop report were moved to help shelter livestock during the Creek fire as well. The staff assisted in sheltering over 1000 different animals over a 3-4 week effort.
“If we’re tasked with sheltering livestock during a large wildfire, we’re making that a higher priority than getting a report out,” Creagon said.
It also didn’t help that Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Fred Rinder retired prior to the 2019 ag report. Rinder had 40 years of experience for Fresno County and his retirement meant the department lost a wealth of knowledge and the creation of a steep learning curve for the incoming deputy ag commissioner.
All of this contributed to a three-month delay of the ag report.
It’s worth mentioning that although Fresno County did report the highest numbers in the nation, the ag report only reflects gross production value, not net. It does not factor costs associated with any of the obstacles Fresno County faced.
Kern County was just shy of matching first place by churning out ag products valued at $7.6 billion, a 2% increase from 2018.
According to Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fanhauser, the top five commodities produced were almonds, grapes, citrus, and milk, accounting for 72% of the total value.
When asked if Kern County could overtake Fresno County in the coming years, Fanhauser replied with, “Anything is possible.”
Kern is a large county heavy in citrus and nuts, so if those hit in the market then it’s possible for the county to come out on top.
Like other counties, the biggest obstacle, other than pandemic, for Kern County is water. Some members of the agricultural community don’t believe the first drought ever ended and expect things to get worse in 2020.
Regardless, commissioner Fanhauser was less concerned with the drought and more with state legislation:
“It’s not so much the drought, but water availability and the state cracking down. Water districts are having trouble providing to their growers.”
Tulare County was not far behind Kern with $7.5 billion in total gross production value for 2019, an increase of 4% from 2018.
According to Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Tom Tucker, milk continues to be the leading agricultural commodity, representing 21.5% of the total value.
While Tulare County may not be the largest producer in the nation, that does not mean it has been slacking. In fact, Tulare County has seen an increase in production for the last 3 years.
“Tulare County is certainly a strong powerhouse for the state and the country for that matter,” Tucker explained.
Tucker speculated that the other counties have surpassed Tulare County because they have changed the ways they do farming. Fresno and Kern counties invested more into permanent planting of nuts such as pistachios and almonds, crops that have come into full production in the past 4-5 years.
But Tucker mentioned that Tulare County has advantages of its own, such as good land for citrus up against the hills. And the county is always trying to become more efficient in crop production.
One of the ways that the county intends to boost production and cut costs is by eliminating, or at least easing off, commodities that require higher labor like peaches, plums, lettuce and broccoli.
“That may mean moving away from higher labor commodities and moving towards a more mechanized crop production.”
But like Creagon, Tucker is also aware that the true determiner of production value will always be the market:
“As some crops increase in value, others will decrease. Everyone will be watching for those shifts.”