Lower prices for milk, almonds and citrus caused Tulare County’s overall crop value in 2015 to drop 13.7 percent to $6.9 billion.
The county’s decline in gross farm value mirrored that of its neighboring counties, Fresno, Kings and Madera, which all reported lower numbers.
Farmers throughout the Valley were challenged in 2015 with soft export markets, lingering effects of the drought and declining prices.
“We have dropped about the same level as all the other Valley counties,” said Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner. “It was a tough year.”
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Kinoshita presented the 2015 crop report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Among the highlights from the report: Milk remained the county’s top crop at $1.7 billion, but its value dropped 32.4 percent from the previous year.
“Prices stunk for most of the year,” she said.
In volume, the county’s dairy cows produced 319 million fewer pounds in 2015 than the previous year. That’s about the equivalent of 6,400 truckloads of milk, Kinoshita said.
We have dropped about the same level as all the other Valley counties. It was a tough year.
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner
Although the county still reigns as the nation’s top milk producer, the number of dairies has declined steadily over the past decade. Kinoshita said that the number of dairies in her county has dropped from 330 several years ago to 285 now.
“Some have gone out of business and others out of state,” she said.
Tulare County dairy operator Tom Barcellos has seen many fellow dairymen leave the business.
“It gets tougher all the time,” he said.
Barcellos said last year’s drop in milk production was the result of several factors, including the use of lower-quality feed and a shrinking number of premium milking cows.
As a way to keep their dairies afloat, some farmers sold off their best milking cows. A shortage of irrigation water also caused some farmers to try farming less water-intensive feed crops such as sorghum or sudan grass.
“It takes less water to grow, but the feed value is just not as high as some others,” Barcellos said. “And milk production takes a hit.”
Almond prices also softened last year as the once-red-hot export markets began to cool. The county’s almond acreage shrunk from 46,400 in 2014 to 45,300 last year.
A lack of irrigation water in some areas and a shift to higher-value citrus, such as tangerines, contributed to the removal of 7,000 acres of navel and Valencia oranges. As a result, the popular tangerine has moved up to the No. 6 spot in the county’s top 10 crops list.
Tangerine acreage rose an additional 3,000 acres last year to 24,700 and pistachios increased 6,300 acres to 51,700.
Crops that continued to decline in acreage included grapes, which shrunk by 9,340 acres, and olives, which dropped 2,660 acres.
It remains to be seen if Tulare can hang on to its title as the state’s No. 1 agriculture producer. Kern County, the state’s No. 2 farm county, is expected to release its report next month.
Fresno County, the state’s No. 3 agriculture producer, saw its overall crop value drop to $6.6 billion, down from $7 billion in 2014.
The Fresno County farming community has been hit hard by the drought, perhaps more than any other in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Production of some higher-value field crops, such as processing tomatoes, has expanded in other counties with a more reliable water supply.