County has record crop year
The value of commodities produced by Tulare County’s farmers and ranchers hit a new record last year, but not all in agriculture are enjoying the fruits of those higher prices.
Grape and nut growers definitely saw an increase in value and enjoyed a better margin last year, while dairy farmers continue to struggle with higher costs for feed for their cows.
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita announced Tuesday that the 2011 value of all ag commodities hit a record $5.63 billion. That is more than $600 million higher than the previous record of $5 billion set in 2008.
“Overall, agriculture is still really hurting from input costs,” said Tulare County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tricia Stever Blattler. She said talk to any grower (regardless of commodity prices) and they will say the costs for fuel, chemicals, and the regulatory burden is steep and getting steeper.
“It’s the regulations that’s killing them. Too many rules are just suffocating,” she said.
“We expect new water quality regulations, monitoring and reporting requirements, this next year and more air quality rules set to be adopted next year on ag equipment (off-road) and many more issues which are driving profit margins down and making them ever thinner. There are so many overhead costs that just aren’t reflected in consumer prices, nor the crop report’s gross values,” added Blattler.
Even with those costs, the value of all crops in the county increased 16% last year.
Milk Value Deceiving
Milk again led the way. The value of the county’s No. 1 commodity topped $2 billion for the first time and was up 28% over last year thanks to a 28% increase in the amount paid for milk.
Kinoshita reported that dairy cows in the county produced a staggering 11 billion pounds of milk last year, slightly more than in 2010. To put that in some perspective, that is 33,000 acre feet of milk, or enough to fill Success Lake to more than a third of capacity.
Much of the milk produced in the county ends up as cheese or butter.
The value of milk not only constitutes 37% of all ag commodities, but is by itself more than the total crop value of any year prior to 1989.
While the price paid for milk rose, so did input costs — the price paid for feed. Hay went from an average price of $124 a ton in 2010 to $255 a ton last year, silage rose from $34.50 to $46 a ton and grain rose from $150 to $239 a ton. Even dry beans rose, going from $780 a ton to an even $1,000.
The total value of field crops, which includes cotton and other row crops, increased 34% over last year. The value of hay alone more than doubled to $170 million.
Local farmer John Corkins said while the situation has improved for most dairymen, costs are still hurting their bottom line
“I don’t know a dairyman I talk to who’s making money,” said Corkins.
The cost of feed is only one component. Rising fuel prices are also taking their toll.
“Dairymen are not keeping up,” said Kinoshita, who added that prices paid for milk have fell back to what they were in 2010, about $4 below what they were last year.
Most Values Up
Of the nine different commodity groups, six rose in value last year, including fruit and nuts that rose 5% from 2010.
Nuts had an especially good year. Corkins said right now growers are having a difficult time keeping up with demand for almonds and pistachios.
The value of almonds rose from $98 million to $128 million last year, while pistachios rose more modestly, from $141 million to $144 million. However, the number of bearing acres of pistachios grew by more than 8,000. Almond acreage grew by 1,300 acres.
“The increase in permanent plantings seems very on-spot with what we hear and see, as they are more profitable and are more efficient with water as many are going in on micro spray and drip irrigation, and getting away from flood irrigation,” noted Blattler of nut crops. “Nut crops are certainly in demand because of their high profitability.”
Oranges slipped in value by $41 million, however tangerines rose in value by $18 million. Lemons also lost value, but the value of grapefruit nearly doubled last year.
A weak dollar greatly increased the volume of commodities shipped overseas.
“When you have a weak dollar you’re able to ship offshore,” said Corkins.
County growers shipped commodities to more than 80 countries last year. Oranges made up the bulk of those commodities shipped overseas, followed by pistachios and grapes. The No. 1 destination was the Republic of Korea, followed by Japan and China.
Kinoshita noted that 10th most exported to nation, United Arab Emirates, takes a lot of the pistachios grown in Tulare County.
Despite the negatives, Kinoshita and Blattler said agriculture remains strong and is key to the county’s economy.
“There’s a lot of pressure on our ag industry. It is important for people to know where their food comes from,” said Kinoshita
Other highlights of the report:
- Grapes rose in value $43 million to $532 million.
- Better prices increased the value of nectarines, peaches and plums, crops that had suffered with low prices for the past several years. That fact is reflected in that there were 1,700 fewer acres of those tree fruits last year than in 2010.
- Forty-four commodities qualified for the county’s million dollar club, with hay making the biggest jump from 13th in 2010 to sixth last year. Olives, which is a cyclical crop, lost $50 million to fall to the county’s 21st ranked crop in terms of value.