Agriculture

Tulare County tops $8 billion in crop value, remains nation’s No. 1 for agriculture

Tulare County dairy farmer Mark Watte: 2014 was a very good year

Tulare County's crop report for 2014 appears to maintain the county's position as the nation's top county for agriculture. Mark Watte of Tulare Dairy Farm backs up the numbers, saying 2014 "was, by some margin ... the most profitable single dairy
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Tulare County's crop report for 2014 appears to maintain the county's position as the nation's top county for agriculture. Mark Watte of Tulare Dairy Farm backs up the numbers, saying 2014 "was, by some margin ... the most profitable single dairy

Tulare County’s overall crop values reached record levels for the fourth straight year, topping $8 billion in 2014, county agriculture officials announced Tuesday.

The increase was a 10% boost over 2013 and likely solidified Tulare County’s position as the nation’s No. 1 agricultural county, a title once held by neighboring Fresno County. Tulare County has now held the title for two years.

Much of Tulare County’s growth was driven by its massive dairy and citrus industries. Last year, the dairy industry, the county’s top commodity, was valued at $2.5 billion, while oranges reached $963 million.

“Right now we are standing at No. 1 in overall value in dairy and citrus, and in exporting,” said Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner.

Kinoshita presented the 2014 report Tuesday to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, who were pleased with the progress.

“In less than 10 years we have doubled our ag value in Tulare County and that is pretty incredible,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said.

Also noteworthy is that Tulare County achieved a record-breaking year despite being in the midst of a historic drought. The state’s four-year drought has led to little or no surface water for farmers, the industry’s main source for irrigating crops.

Many farmers switched to pumping ground water to keep their crops alive. Others purchased water at record-high prices.

“This really is a testament to the resiliency of Tulare County farmers,” said Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. “They are able to grow more products with fewer resources.”

Longtime Tulare County farmer Mark Watte said farmers shifted the water they have available to higher-value crops, like almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Soaring milk prices also kept the county’s dairy industry in business after several years of weak prices and high costs.

“2014 was, by a large margin, one of the most profitable years of all time,” Watte said. “But this year won’t be the same story.”

Last year, Watte was able to farm all of his 3,000 acres of wheat, corn, alfalfa, pistachios and almonds. He also operates a 1,000-cow dairy. But this year, the drought has taken its toll. He has fallowed 650 acres because of a lack of water.

Kinoshita said the drought also caused a decline in the county’s field crops, including cotton, wheat and alfalfa. Farmers left about 275,000 acres unplanted last year because of a lack of water.

Despite the drought, other commodities have seen a surge, thanks to higher prices and eager export markets. Permanent crops, including nuts and citrus, grew by 22,680 acres in 2014. Among the crops that are increasing in acreage are almonds, tangerines/tangelos, walnuts, navel oranges, pistachios and lemons.

Fresno and Kern counties are expected to present their annual crop reports in the coming weeks.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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