Kern County’s agricultural industry has recently had to absorb a number of jabs.
State water regulations and building a plan to bring our basin up to normal levels without receiving 100 percent water allocations from our two California water projects have consumed our county. It’s a balancing act to plan the need for water users in Kern County.
Besides water, we recently have a new issue that we couldn’t have planned for: tariffs.
Kern County’s top-five producing commodities are table grapes, almonds, citrus, pistachios and dairy. Tariffs discussions are heated internationally, which include a large number of countries besides China. The commodities with the highest imposed tariffs are four of our five top commodities. While many growers are bracing for the full impact of the tariffs, there are a couple of things to consider on their behalf.
Many have assumed the tariffs may be temporary.
Estimates from six months to two years have been predicted by market experts. However, please note table grapes, almonds, citrus and pistachios all fall under the term “permanent crop.”
Farmers do not consider ever replanting an orchard before its time. Almonds are in the ground for at least 15 years before they consider replacing the orchard with saplings. Pistachios can be in the ground for 100 years before replacing. The tariffs on these permanent crops is a big deal. It is difficult take the brunt of less demand on the commodity for a long period of time.
Farmers are price takers, not price makers. Farmers of permanent crops grow the food regardless of the demand for the commodity. This is much different than rotation crops like potatoes, onions and carrots, where they can plant a different crop a couple times a year and expect the price to fluctuate.
Farmers plan their annual budget to grow their commodities once a year like any other business. They estimate the cost of fertilizer, water, labor, fuel, to name a few categories, based on the gross cost from the previous year. The price for their product is not so predictable and scheduled. They rely on the market to determine the price for their ton of food based on demand.
If the tariff discussion does not resolve itself or worse, continue to worsen, a lot is at stake in Kern County. Less income from exports means fewer jobs. And when agriculture provides one in three jobs in Kern County, unemployment will rise. It’s a trickle-down effect no one wants to embrace for the sake of international affairs.
Beatris Espericueta Sanders is the former executive director for the Kern County Farm Bureau, which represents the largest agricultural producing county in the nation and 1,100 members.