Can Kern County, home of Buck Owens, oil wells and tumbleweeds, dethrone Tulare County as the No. 1 agriculture county in the state, and possibly the nation?
It could happen. And if it does, it will be a first for the south San Joaquin Valley county.
Who becomes the undisputed agriculture champion will be revealed on Tuesday. That’s the day Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County’s agricultural commissioner, delivers the 2016 crop report to her board of supervisors.
Tulare County will have to do better than Kern County’s $7.2 billion to keep its No. 1 ranking.
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As the nation’s leading milk producer, Tulare County has led the state in overall crop values for the last several years, stripping that title from Fresno County, the one-time ag champ.
For years, the two counties shared a friendly rivalry over who would come out on top. But California’s four-year drought took a heavy toll on Fresno County as farmers fallowed thousands of acres or shifted production to counties with more reliable water supplies.
Last year Tulare was on top with a total value of $6.9 billion.
Kinoshita, however, didn’t want to talk about bragging rights, or beating another county. She’s all business.
“I think it is cool that our growers would be ranked No. 1 but it is not a reflection of how I do my own job,” she said. “It is a tabulation of our acreage, yields and prices per ton.”
The possibility of taking over the top spot was not lost on Glenn Fankhauser, Kern County’s agricultural commissioner. He said in a recent Bakersfield Californian article: “We fight it out with Tulare and Fresno counties,” Fankhauser said. “Fresno is down. Tulare needs to improve over 2015 to overtake us.”
Kern County, like much of the San Joaquin Valley, has experienced an explosion in the planting of nut crops, including almonds and pistachios. Almonds was Kern County’s No. 2 crop with a total value of $1.3 billion. Pistachios moved from No. 7 to No. 4 with a total value of $769.3 million.