Crop values hit $4.4B as drought parches strawberries
Drought conditions sapped 12 percent of the value of strawberry production in Ventura County while wine grapes surged for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to help boost the region’s crop values to $4.4 billion, according to reports on last year’s crops.
Strawberries continue to hold the top spot in value for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, earning totals in 2013 of $464.7 million and $608.7 million, respectively. But wine grapes are now the highest-grossing crop in San Luis Obispo County.
The last time wine grapes held the No. 1 spot in SLO county was in 2010, when their annual value was about $173.5 million. Today that number is $220.3 million, an 11 percent increase from 2012.
Ventura County lemons dropped in value, falling from the second highest-grossing crop to the No. 5 spot with a six percent decline from the year before. Meanwhile, avocados took the No. 2 spot with an 85 percent increase, followed by raspberries in the No. 3 spot.
While strawberries took a 12 percent hit in Ventura County, the crop’s total value actually rose by 5 percent in Santa Barbara County. The value of wine grapes in Santa Barbara took an even greater leap, rising by 79 percent to $163.3 million. The crop replaced broccoli as the county’s second highest-grossing crop.
The Santa Barbara County crop report noted a 54 percent increase in raspberry and blackberry production, but also said “there were several challenges faced by agriculture this past year,” such as lower-than-usual avocado production.
“The avocado harvest was impacted by lower than average temperatures in January and lack of rain throughout the growing season,” the Santa Barbara County report stated. The avocado crop declined by 93 acres from 2012 to 2013, along with a drop in value from $56.1 million to $49.6 million during these years.
The Santa Barbara County report noted decreased production in other areas of agriculture.
“The continued drought conditions were also deleterious to the cattle and apiary industries,” it stated. The number of cattle and calves in Santa Barbara County decreased from 37,500 in 2012 to 33,000 in 2013. But its value for it rose from $31.7 million to $32.4 million.
Crop reports for San Luis Obispo County also indicate that the cattle industry has taken a hit from the drought. The county experienced a surge in the number and value of cattle, from $69.4 million in 2012 to $96.3 million in 2013, a result of ranchers having to sell off cattle they can’t support due to drought conditions.
“Significant drought conditions put pressure on the cattle industry to reduce herd sizes as natural forage was low and supplemental feed costs were high,” the report stated. “With the reduction in herd sizes, more animals were sent to market pushing values higher for the year to $96.3 million. However, due to the number of animals sold in 2013, it will take a few years for ranchers to build herd sizes back to normal levels.”
The 2013 report for San Luis Obispo County also stated that strawberries are the county’s second highest-grossing crop, with a total value of $210.5 million.
Overall, all of the Tri-Counties experienced growth in agricultural production for 2013.
Ventura County’s industry rose by 6.7 percent, from $2 billion in 2012 to $2.1 billion in 2013. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County’s production rose by 10 percent since 2012 and has a total value of $1.4 billion. San Luis Obispo County climbed to a record-high of $960.7 million, marking an 11 percent increase.