Declining prices for milk, cotton and nuts caused the 2015 value of Kings County’s crops to tumble 18.2 percent to $2 billion.
It’s a reversal of what had been an upward trend over the past three years, even as drought made farming more difficult. In 2014, strong consumer demand, especially overseas, helped boost prices for many of Kings County’s top crops, leading to a record-breaking value of $2.4 billion.
But as often happens in agriculture, the good times don’t last. Last year, dairy farmers took a significant hit as milk values plummeted 32 percent. Milk was the county’s No. 1 crop with a total value of $651 million in 2015.
“When milk takes a hit, we take a hit,” said Steve Schweizer, Kings County deputy agricultural commissioner-sealer. “And then you throw in an off year for pistachios and walnuts. It doesn’t take a lot of crops to take us down.”
Like other counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Kings also has become home to thousands of acres of nut crops. And while almonds rose in overall value to $167 million, pistachio and walnut growers struggled last year.
The trouble with pistachios was not the price as much as it was the weather. Less-than-ideal growing conditions produced a much smaller crop per acre. Overall, the value of pistachios declined 37.5 percent last year, down to $85 million.
Weak demand caused walnut prices to tumble.
“Walnuts took a huge hit,” Schweizer said. “The market just dropped. We saw a decline of 49 pecent.”
Cattle and calves were the second-ranked crop at $226 million. And cotton came in third at $177 million.
Livestock and poultry experienced the largest increase in value, rising 32 percent. County agriculture officials say the increase was attributed to higher beef prices. Schweizer said that with dry conditions last year, ranchers sold more of their cattle because of a lack of grassland.
County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Niswander presented the county’s annual crop report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.