Written by David Castellon
The combined value of crops, livestock and other agricultural goods sold in 2016 by Kings County farmers, ranchers and others totaled more than $2 billion last year.
That’s a decline of nearly 1 percent, or more than $18.8 million, compared to 2015 sales and marks the county’s second-straight year of declining ag sales since hitting a record sales mark of $2.4 billion in 2014.
While the lingering effects of California’s record drought and low releases of irrigation water to farms from the San Joaquin Delta kept some land fallow for the year, particularly on Kings County’s west side, Steve Schweizer, the county’s deputy agriculture commissioner, said low valuations on many of the county’s major ag commodities were the main culprit.
“Prices were just down for a lot of the commodities,” particularly among field crops, he said.
In fact, looking at the list of average prices paid for Kings County field crops, only pasture range hay had a better average selling price last year than in 2015.
Alfalfa hay, for example sold, on average, for $142 a ton last year, $40 less than in the prior year. Pima cotton seed showed a dramatic price difference, selling for $255 a ton last year compared to $340 a ton in 2015.
“Production for some commodities were up, including cotton,” which helped offset some of the pricing declines, Schweizer said.
In fact, he said 2016 was a very good production year for many Kings County field crops, but “it really was [that] the prices weren’t there for a lot of commodities.”
Milk production is another example of this.
Kings County dairies produced more than 42.84 million hundredweight of milk last year – 59,158 hundredweight more than in the prior year – but the total value of milk sales last year was down more than $14 million compared to 2015 sales.
A single hundredweight is equal to 100 pounds of milk.
Still, milk remained the top-selling ag commodity in Kings County last year, with sales exceeding $636.9 million.
Over the past decade, many Kings County farmers have converted to planting nuts, as they have proven to generate high, reliable revenues for most of that time.
But in recent years the added nut production around the world has created an oversupply, sending prices in decline.
This has been particularly true of almonds, where prices paid to Kings County farmers dropped from an average $7,570 a ton in 2015 down to $4,820 in 2016.
And with nut prices being affected by overseas demand as much as domestic issues, Schweizer, said it’s anybody’s guess what may happen this year.
There was a big price drop last year for pistachios, too, but that crop bounced back in terms of production following a bad 2015, when unusually warm weather reduced the amount of chilling hours the trees needed to produce their nuts, Schweizer explained.
“So in 2016 [pistachio] prices dropped, but production nearly tripled,” resulting in Kings County pistachio farmers generating $178.5 million in sales last year, more than double their total sales in 2015, he noted.
The 2016 crop report presented Tuesday to Kings County supervisors noted that livestock and poultry sales also rose by 7.5 percent over the one-year period, while fruit and nut crops combined had a lesser sales increase, 2.3 percent, due largely to the rebound in pistachio production.
Pistachios ended 2016 as the fourth top crop for Kings
County, a move up from sixth place the prior year, while almonds also rose in the rankings to fourth place after placing fifth in 2015.
Sales of Kings County apiary products — honey, beeswax and pollination services — increased last year by more than $1 million compared to the prior year, due largely to higher prices for pollination services, the ag commissioner’s report continues.
Last year, Kings County ranked ninth among California counties in ag sales, well behind its neighbors, Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties, each of which had well over $6 billion in sales and ranked, respectively, first through third in the state and nationally.
As for how Kings County measured up against them in 2016, that may not be known for weeks, as the ag commissioner offices in all three counties reported that their annual crop reports will not be released until August or September.