As the thirstiest industry in the Tri-Counties, agriculture along the Central Coast has taken the hardest hit from the record-setting drought — along with the Southern California area, it was hit with at least $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs in 2014, according to a UC Davis study. But around the Tri-Counties, there are still a good number of bright spots in ag.
Santa Paula-based, publicly traded Calavo Growers has raked in considerable gains for the first quarter of 2015, with revenue rising 15.8 percent to $194.8 million, up from $168.2 million last year. In fact, the company took in $5.3 million in net income, compared to a net loss of $1.8 million last year. The strong gains are partially due to the ripe market for avocados, according to Lee Cole, chairman, president and CEO of the company. Cole also said Calavo could’ve brought in even stronger numbers but was faced with operating costs related to its purchase of Renaissance Food Group.
“In Calavo’s fresh business segment, we did an excellent job of sourcing and marketing Mexican-grown avocados, packing substantially more units in this year’s first quarter from one year earlier, which contributed to the overall company gross margin gains,” Cole said in a statement, later adding that Calavo plans to target this market for future gains.
“The avocado industry is on track for consumption that will exceed 2 billion pounds this year and, as the market leader, Calavo is in a prime position to capitalize on this trend,” Cole said in a statement. “To that end, we anticipate the company to see a second quarter year-over-year increase in avocado packing volume of at least 15 percent.”
A market report from the California Strawberry Commission indicates farmers statewide have shipped 8 percent more crates of strawberries so far this year compared to the same period last year; and this increase is 50 percent more than in 2013. The commission reports the higher numbers are due to mild winter and early spring weather conditions.
California growers have shipped a total of 18 million crates — with Oxnard farmers leading the pack with a total of 12 million crates to date. In fact, the city will celebrate its signature crop with the 32nd annual California Strawberry Festival, hosted at the Strawberry Meadows of College Park on May 16 and 17. The event invites berry-lovers from all over the state to try everything from strawberry pizza and beer to nachos and popcorn made with the juicy berry — along with some more traditional favorites like chocolate dipped strawberries and funnel cake.
And arriving even sooner is Santa Barbara County’s take on the berry festival. April 24 to 26, Santa Maria will host the 28th Annual Santa Maria Strawberry Festival. The weekend-long event will feature strawberry varietal tasting, cooking demonstrations, educational exhibits and carnival entertainment held at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
While crops such as strawberries are seeing higher numbers than in 2014, growers continue to prioritize the need for secure water and land as drought conditions persist. An annual survey performed by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that young farmers and ranchers reported finding and securing adequate land to grow crops and raise animals is the top challenge in agriculture right now.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents identified this as the biggest challenge. The survey was administered to participants in the Young Farmers and Ranchers program.