“Topsy turvy” 2019 was better for ag than 2018

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By Vicky Boyd


Despite a $49 million dip in fruit and nut crop values, San Joaquin County’s overall 2019 farmgate worth was $2,617,815,000, a 0.91% increase over the nearly $2.6 billion produced in 2018. County Agriculture Commissioner Tim Pelican attributed the county’s diversified crop portfolio for the resilient farmgate values.

“I think it really shows this year, especially when you’re looking at the values of the top 10,” Pelican said. “If we could have had a more normal year for some of those commodities, it would have been a pretty good rise in value. If one crop has a weakness, there’s something else that will pick it up.”

San Joaquin Farm Bureau First Vice President Ken Vogel said the wide variety of crops doesn’t benefit just ag but the entire county’s economy.

“A lot of the economy in San Joaquin County is based on ag,” he said. “A lot of the jobs are based on ag. So if ag is holding its own, I think it’s good.

“We ship products out of the port of Stockton, so ag is so important to San Joaquin County. It’s not just the crops that we produce. It’s the secondary economy – the boxes, the packing, the trucking, all of those types of things.”

SJFB President David Strecker agreed. “Ag is a lot of jobs. That’s not only in the fields, but it’s before seeds are even put in the ground through the whole process of getting food to the grocery stores and into the hands of people. So it’s good if ag is doing well, then the overall economy in the county should be doing well.”

SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel, who farms walnuts and cherries with his father and brothers near Linden, described 2019 as a “topsy turvy year, at least on the crops we grow.”

“I’m impressed that we don’t have a decrease in values from 2018 to 2019 and we stayed stable because 2018 wasn’t a stellar year,” he said. “If they’re comparing year to year, we’re holding our own.”

The crop production data, which included category and commodity breakdowns, were part of the 85th annual crop report he presented to the Board of Supervisors at their regular Sept. 1 meeting.

Dragging down the top-grossing fruit and nut crops category, which ended up at about $1.35 billion in 2019, were a poor almond set and lower prices, reduced winegrape acreage and prices, and devastating rain-induced cherry losses. That compares to a category value of about $1.4 billion in 2018.

On the other hand, walnuts, eggs and milk saw upticks in value in 2019.

“The biggest issue, I think, was almonds had poor yields and the price wasn’t real great,” Pelican said. “But they still ended up being the No. 1 commodity” with $449.6 million in 2019 compared to $536.4 million in 2018.

Rounding out the Top 10 crops by gross value were:

  1. Milk, all: $378.4 million versus $360.3 million in 2018.
  2. Grapes, all: $372.5 million versus $430.5 million in 2018.
  3. Walnuts: $290.3 million versus $211.3 million in 2018.
  4. Eggs, chickens, all: $160.3 million versus $105.8 million in 2018.
  5. Cattles and calves: $102.6 million versus $102.3 million in 2018.
  6. Tomatoes, all: $88.4 million versus $93.5 million in 2018.
  7. Cherries: $88.1 million versus $89.7 million in 2018.
  8. Blueberries: $60.96 million versus $61.1 million in 2018.
  9. Hay, all: $56.1 million versus $57 million in 2018.

Dave Phippen, an almond grower and partner in the family-owned Travaille & Phippen Inc. huller/sheller in Manteca, described 2019 yields as significantly lower locally.

“The crop size was a real disappointment and was off about 20% to 25% in our immediate area,” said Phippen, also a San Joaquin Farm Bureau board member. “The California almond crop was a record 2.5 billion pounds, but locally here in the Travaille & Phippen sphere, it was down 25%. And prices were comparable to the prior year, so the price was OK. But as almond growers, if you were off 25%, it was kind of nip and tuck to keep up with the bills.”

Strecker, who grows row crops and forage in the Delta, said 2019 was a “decent” year for hay prices.

“It’s been so rocky for the dairy industry for what they’re getting for their milk for so long,” he said. “They need to feed, but they have to be able to pay for the feed. It’s much smoother when they’re getting better milk prices.”

Vogel, who farms near Linden, was like many county cherry producers last year and lost his crop to a series of ill-timed rains before Memorial Day. Fortunately, he said, crop insurance helped offset some of the losses.

Although his walnut crop was off about 25% to 30% in 2019, Vogel said the prices were better than in 2018.

“So I almost think I did a little better financially than I did with the crop before,” he said. “The walnut crop wasn’t anything to write home about, but I was happy to have the insurance for the cherries, and farm support programs from the Farm Service Agency were appreciated.”

In addition to production values, the crop report includes an article by Stephanie Bolton of the Lodi Winegrape Commission highlighting integrated pest management programs to control vine mealybug.

The report also touches on ongoing efforts to eradicate nutria, the giant swamp rat first found in the county near Lathrop in 2018. Since then, more than 100 have been removed from San Joaquin County alone.

As he did with the 2018 report, Pelican tapped the talents of San Joaquin Delta College graphic art students to design and lay out the 2019 report.