Almonds came close to overtaking grapes as Kern’s top-grossing crop last year, according to a new report detailing the county’s 12 percent jump in ag sales from 2013 totals.
Although there were no changes in the overall rankings of Kern’s nine most valuable agricultural commodities, almond revenues jumped 53 percent to $1.488 billion, closing in on grapes, which posted a 6 percent sales decline at $1.718 billion.
Significant fluctuations in sales totals were evident across the county’s top 20 commodities, with 14 showing improvement and only six — grapes, carrots, cotton, pomegranates, potatoes and nursery roses — posting sales declines.
In the case of almonds, sales growth was the result of a 40 percent increase in total acreage from 2013, combined with a 30 percent surge in prices.
Total grape acreage, by comparison, grew only 2 percent in 2013, while the price of raisin grapes dropped 39 percent and table grape prices increased 14 percent.
This trend of improving fortunes for almond growers is unlikely to bring about a widespread shift away from grapes, county Ag Commissioner Ruben Arroyo said.
Although small farmers may be tempted to switch from grapes to nuts, he said, both crops are dominated locally by large growers that specialize in one or the other and would be reluctant to make the transition.
Neither is the report a good indicator of how profitable each crop is for farmers, noted the Kern County Farm Bureau’s executive director, Beatris Sanders. As she pointed out, sales numbers contained in the 2014 crop report reflect revenues but not costs such as water and labor, both of which have become more expensive lately.
“There’s still a lot of costs,” she said. “You don’t see that in the gross” reported by the county.
Nevertheless, she saw good news in the countywide ag revenue total of $7.552 billion, which at this point places Kern’s farming industry in second place nationwide. It was bested only by Tulare County’s 2013 sales total of $8.084 billion, reported earlier this month.
Depending on how well Fresno County did, which won’t be reported until later this month, Kern may keep its No. 2 ranking.
“We’ll see where they (Fresno County farmers) come in,” she said.
For Arroyo, one of the most significant details in last year’s crop report was that four crops — grapes, almonds, milk and citrus — reached the $1 billion mark for annual sales, or were close to it.
“That’s a milestone, I think, for Kern County,” he said.
The benefit of having such a robust ag industry becomes clear, he said, when one of them takes a hit. For example, if Napa County’s wine vineyards were to suffer a big setback, the effects would be felt deeply and widely, he said.
That kind of dependence on one crop doesn’t exist in Kern.
“Here I think we have a pretty good mix of permanent crops and row crops and milk,” he said. “I think that goes to show the diversity of what we can grow in Kern County.”