We already have Fresno County beat. Tulare could be next.

For the first time, said Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser, the San Joaquin Valley's southernmost county could become the top ag producing county in California.

Fankhauser released Kern's annual crop report Tuesday. It shows the total gross value of the county's agricultural products increased by 6 percent last year, nearly making up for a 9 percent dip in 2015.

In 2016, all agricultural commodities produced in Kern were worth about $7.2 billion, a significant increase compared to the 2015 crop value of approximately $6.8 billion.

Powerhouse ag producer Fresno County — which often jockeys with Tulare County for the state's top spot — released its 2016 crop report last month, showing a total value of $6.1 billion, a decline of 7.3 percent from the previous year.

Tulare, which topped $8 billion in 2014, fell hard the following year to $6.9 billion, due in part to weak milk prices. Milk is Tulare County's top commodity, and milk prices improved only slightly last year, meaning Tulare could see some weakness in its crop report, which is expected to be released later this month.

"We fight it out with Tulare and Fresno counties," Fankhauser said. "Fresno is down. Tulare needs to improve over 2015 to overtake us."

Kern's top five commodities in 2016 were grapes, almonds, citrus, pistachios and milk, which together made up more than 60 percent of the total value.

But the pistachio crop was a superstar, Fankhauser said.

The crop improved from 7th ranked to 4th. More importantly, its total value increased 213 percent, from $245.1 million in 2015 to $769.2 last year.

Cherries showed an even more dramatic leap from 19th to 9th in ranking, although the total value of the crop is $105.8 million, a fraction of the value of the the pistachio harvest.

Taken in a broader historical context, despite fluctuations in crop values, Kern's has been trending upward for years.

In 2009, Kern' s total crop value was $3.6 billion. The next year the value began to climb, and it continued to shoot upward, more than doubling by 2014. At least three of those years were critical drought years.

How do Kern County' s crop values increase, even during years of critical drought such as 2016?

Even though more land may be fallowed during drought, the market price of commodities could rise as a result, thereby increasing the gross value of the crop.

"Drought could even bump up value," Fankhauser said.

In addition, the gross value of Kern's agricultural crops is not necessarily an indication that local growers are reaping more profits.

"The figures in this report represent only gross values and do not take into account the costs of production, marketing, transportation or other ancillary costs," the commissioner wrote in his report presented Tuesday to the Kern County Board of Supervisors. 

Net profits enjoyed by growers — or losses suffered — are not reflected in the report.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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