News Column

Top Skagit crops recovered in 2013, outlook bright

January 28, 2014

By Mark Stayton, Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.

Jan. 28 -- MOUNT VERNON -- Skagit County's top agricultural products saw rebounds from hard times and slow and steady growth last year, and market prospects are generally strong moving into 2014, according to market reports released by Northwest Farm Credit Services. The regional reports noted markets were either strong or improving over the year for three of the county's top products in terms of overall value to producers: nursery stock, potatoes and dairy. After enduring months of high feed and hay costs, partially as a result of the 2012 drought in the Midwest, falling prices for feed improved profit potential for farms in livestock and dairy industries, one report noted. Conventional dairy farmers endured depressed milk prices, high feed costs and negative profit margins for much of the year, but the outlook for 2014 is positive, the report stated. According to Washington State University statistics, Skagit dairy producers sold $46.5 million in dairy products in 2012, up from $40.8 million in 2010. "It didn't go so good because the grain was so high. It's finally going down, so that helps us out," said Fred Folkertsma , co-owner of Folkertsma Farms , a conventional dairy with milking 370 cows on Fir Island . Folkertsma said corn grain started 2013 at $380 per ton and finished at $320 . He said hay, which normally sells for around $200 per ton, hovered at $300 . The farm goes through 4 tons of grain per day and 2 tons of hay, and the difference adds up, he said. Higher milk prices, lower feed prices and greater dairy exports found near the end of the year helped improve profit margins near the end of 2013, the reports stated. "The way it sounds, 2014 will be better for us than 2013 was, and they say the next five years will be better than the last five years," Folkertsma said. "... The last five years have been horrible." Dean Wesen , co-owner of Wesen Organic Dairy in Bow , said the price paid to producers for organic milk has remained steady and good for a number of years, but falling prices for organic feed helped his dairy's profitability as well. Last year, a normal spring planting season helped potato farmers harvest their crop before fields were inundated with rain in the fall. Skagit County specializes in growing red, yellow, white and other colored potatoes, which brought approximately $45 million to growers in 2012, according to WSU statistics. Dave Hughes , co-owner of Hughes Farms in Mount Vernon , said potato planting that usually takes place in April was pushed back in the two years preceding, which extended the growing seasons deeper into the fall. "The big difference was that we got everything out of the ground this year. We left 300 acres in the ground last year," Hughes said. "I think most growers got all their crop out of the ground because the rains held off." Don McMoran , director of the WSU Skagit Extension, said prices for Skagit County's crop of potatoes were higher this year than in years past, but higher incidences of disease tempered profits. Nursery stock was hit hard after new home purchases dropped in the 2008 recession, but 2013 was a year of slow and steady growth for nurseries that weathered the storm. Producers sold $50 million in nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod products in 2012, according to WSU statistics. "It's on the uptick. There are good reasons for optimism -- almost everybody had a good year this last year," said John Christianson , owner of Christianson's Nursery in Mount Vernon . The Farm Credit Services report noted that business has improved for the remaining nurseries and producers in part due to consolidation that occurred through the recession. Christianson said belttightening measures put in place over the recession helped contribute to his company's successful year. "When your sales aren't going up and aren't going up, you have to look at all your expenses. You really need to be careful how you spend your money," he said. A recovering real estate market was another driving force behind the nursery industry's recovery, and the trend looks to continue into next year, according to FCS reports. Reporter Mark Stayton : 360-416-2112, mstayton@ , Twitter: @Mark_SVH, Facebook . com/byMarkStayton ___ (c)2014 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.) Visit the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, WA)

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