A strong agricultural economy is giving Tulare County bragging rights about its contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product, and exports of citrus, grapes and nuts seem to be a major factor.
But farmers looking at their bottom lines wonder how it could be so.
The gross domestic product in the Visalia-Porterville metropolitan statistical area – Visalia-Porterville is how economists label Tulare County – increased by 7.6 percent in 2015, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported this week.
In a psychological boost, Tulare County ranked No. 4 nationally in GDP growth when compared to 379 other metropolitan statistical areas.
Gross domestic product is the value of goods and services produced in the nation.
Tulare County’s GDP totaled $14.2 billion in 2015, reflecting growth in agriculture and other sectors. Manufacturing showed a slight decrease.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, said the county’s GDP would have been even higher, but irrigation water shortages are limiting production.
“Tulare residents have always been hard-working and entrepreneurial, and their efforts are paying off,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the local economy expand exponentially once the federal government restores our full water supply.”
From an economic development standpoint, it gives folks the opportunity to see there’s economic growth occurring here.
Paul Saldana, Economic Development Corp. of Tulare County
On the GDP list, Midland, Texas, was No. 1 for growth, followed by San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and Lake Charles, La.
Fresno County came in at No. 63, with $33.9 billion in gross domestic product.
Paul Saldana, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Tulare County, reviews the annual report closely.
Of the 7.6 percent increase, 5.85 percent came from increases in agricultural production, he said.
“It’s the third year in a row we posted an increase in GDP,” he said. “From an economic development standpoint, it gives folks the opportunity to see there’s economic growth occurring here. It gives corporations a reason to take a look at us.”
Agriculture production in Tulare County totaled nearly $7 billion last year, which is more than some states, said Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita.
Exports to foreign countries of citrus, grapes, almonds and pistachio are growing, she said.
I look forward to seeing the local economy expand exponentially once the federal government restores our full water supply.
Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare
“Pistachios and almonds, that piece of the pie keeps growing,” she said. “They’re opening up new markets. They’ve got strong industry groups that advocate for growers.”
Jim Zion, managing partner of Meridian Growers in Clovis, said China buys a lot of nuts from California. Harvest occurs in the fall, but sales take place year round, he said.
The increase in the Tulare County GDP obscures a dire financial reality for citrus growers, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual.
“Costs have risen 88 percent and our revenues to offset that have risen 84 percent,” Nelsen said. “The net (profit) hasn’t changed. The net has decreased. Gross revenues are going up, but that doesn’t quantify to economic growth.”
Meanwhile, drought has made water more expensive, he said, and more citrus farms are for sale.
Local GDP may have gone up last year per the government report, but milk prices were down, said Tipton dairy farmer Tom Barcellos.
A lot of California milk products get shipped out of the ports to overseas markets – nationally, 19 percent of milk production is exported, he said – but the difference between revenues and expenses keeps narrowing.
Lack of water for irrigation is causing some farmers to cut back, Barcellos said
“We’re able to find efficiencies, but those are getting harder and harder,” he said.