News Column

Crop report: Kings County a $2.2 billion land of milk and honey

May 21, 2014

By Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee



May 21--Higher prices for milk, nuts and honey helped push Kings County's 2013 crop value to a new record: $2.26 billion.

The value of the county's agricultural products rose 2.4% from the previous year, according to the 2013 Kings County crop report. The annual report was presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties are in the process of compiling their annual crop reports for release in the coming weeks.

Kings County's top three commodities remained unchanged from 2012 with milk, cotton and cattle leading the way. Last year, the county's milk crop was valued at $773 million, cotton came in at $318 million and cattle was $180 million.

Not far behind on the top 10 list are the nut crops -- almonds, pistachios and walnuts -- that have dominated the new crop acreage in the county.

"Our nut crops continue to skyrocket," said Steve Schweizer, Kings County deputy agricultural commissioner.

Almond acreage in the county has more than quadrupled in the last decade, rising to 17,412 acres. The crop is valued at $122 million, up from $89 million in 2012. Another 4,000 acres have been planted but are not yet ready for harvest.

Strong worldwide demand and solid prices to growers are driving the planting of more almonds, pistachios and walnuts. The pistachio crop was valued at $110 million while walnuts were valued at $98 million.

"We know that we will have a lot more nuts coming into production in the next few years," Schweizer said. "It has been a trend and that trend continues."

Bee keepers enjoyed a sweet season last year. Pollination and honey prices were high. The value of honey in 2013 reached $840,000 up from $602,000 the previous year.

Growers of field crops enjoyed a less than stellar year. The value of field crops like alfalfa, corn silage, oat hay and wheat silage declined by 6.8%.

Schweizer said a shortage of water, fewer dairies and the lure of permanent crops were all factors in why field crop acres shrank.

"Some growers became more diversified and have moved into more permanent crops and fewer row crops," Schweizer said.

Vegetable crops dropped 16% in value to $152 million as fewer acres of tomatoes for processing were planted. The drought may also have played a role in the drop in acreage.

It remains to be seen how large an effect the drought will have on this year's crops.

"Our farmers are still struggling to keep water on permanent crops or even letting some acreage go," Schweizer said. "Field crops will likely take a hit, we just don't know by how much."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)