Agriculture

Tulare County slips from its perch as California’s top agricultural county

Holstein dairy cows wait to be milked in Tulare. Low milk prices contributed to an 8 percent decline in total agriculture revenue for Tulare County.
Holstein dairy cows wait to be milked in Tulare. Low milk prices contributed to an 8 percent decline in total agriculture revenue for Tulare County. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Lousy milk prices spoiled Tulare County’s chances of holding on to its title as the state’s No.1 agriculture county.

Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner, delivered the bad news to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The county’s total production value for 2016 tumbled 8 percent to $6.3 billion.

That crop value wasn’t enough to keep Kern County from seizing the top spot with a total agriculture value of $7.2 billion. It was a record for Kern County and put them in the No. 1 position for the first time. Strong markets for grapes, almonds and citrus, helped push the county to the top.

Tulare County maybe the leading dairy county in the state but that’s also part of the reason it slipped to No. 2, just ahead of Fresno County, which had a total crop value of $6.1 billion.

“Ten months of really lousy milk prices was not enough to salvage the industry by any stretch because expenses are so high,” Kinoshita said. “There was a 184-million-pound decrease in milk production.”

Instead of milk making up one-third of the county’s total revenue, it fell to 24 percent of the total. The ups and downs of the dairy industry are also driving some dairy operators out of business. Last year, there were 269 dairies in the county, down from 285 the previous year.

Along with a drop in milk production, the county also saw a decline of 73,000 acres of row crops.

Supervisor Steve Worthley was disappointed the county lost is No. 1 standing, even if it is mostly for bragging rights. But he was confident Tulare County will make a comeback next year.

Worthley said farmers wouldn’t be planting new vines or trees if they didn’t believe in the industry.

“That is the confidence of the ag community,” he said. “If there were 0 acres being planted then we would be in big trouble.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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