Kern County is No. 1!

The San Joaquin Valley's southernmost county has officially taken the top spot for the value of its agricultural products in 2016, making Kern the top agricultural producer — not only in the state, but in the nation.

"This is just a testament to how integral agriculture is to Kern County and to all the hard-working individuals who contribute to its success, from the farmer to the fieldworker," said Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser.

Fankhauser released Kern's annual crop report last week. It showed Kern had outpaced agricultural powerhouse Fresno County, but Tulare County, which often reaches the No. 1 spot, had not yet released its crop report.

Tuesday the numbers came out. And they looked sweet for those in the local ag industry:

Kern — $7.19 Billion

Tulare — $6.37 Billion

Fresno — $6.18 Billion

Fankhauser said huge percentage increases in the value of Kern's pistachio and cherry crops helped with the county's overall increase — even as both Tulare and Fresno's values took a tumble.

Kern leads the state in pistachio and almond production. Its top-five commodities in 2016 were grapes and almonds — each valued at more than $1 billion — citrus, pistachios and milk, which together made up more than 60 percent of the total value.

But the pistachio crop was a come-from-behind hero, improving from 7th ranked in 2015 to 4th last year. 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 place, although the total value of the crop is $105.8 million, a mere fraction of the value of the county's top crops.

The total gross value of the county's agricultural products increased by 6 percent last year, nearly making up for a 9 percent dip to $6.8 billion in 2015.

Kern County Farm Bureau Executive Director Beatris Espericueta Sanders was celebrating just a little over Kern's new title Tuesday.

"This is a title we don’t take lightly as many ag-linked jobs thrive here as a result of the agricultural production," Espericueta Sanders said in a news release. "One in five jobs is directly or indirectly linked to the agricultural industry, from the farmers to the haulers to the farm workers."

And according to the Kern Economic Development Corp., five of the top-15 private employers in the county are agriculture-based.

Kern County is home to more than 300 agricultural commodities, a staggering variety of products, from apples to alfalfa, beets to blueberries, carrots to cantaloupe.

But it’s also important to remember, Espericueta Sanders said, that the dollar figures on the crop report are gross revenues, not direct earnings to growers.

"In fact, we have seen an increased cost to growing food in recent years," she said, "due to the cost of water, nitrate control measures, minimum wage increases, new overtime regulations, and cost of fuel."

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

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