Fresno County to hit record $8 billion in agricultural production in 2021

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Almonds rain down as a shaker works in the garden during the recent fall nut harvest.  Fresno County's 2021 almond crop is projected to exceed $1.4 billion, ranking as the most valuable agricultural commodity in the county's agriculture commissioner's report released on October 25, 2022.

Almonds rain down as a shaker works in the garden during the recent fall nut harvest. Fresno County’s 2021 almond crop is projected to exceed $1.4 billion, ranking as the most valuable agricultural commodity in the county’s agriculture commissioner’s report released on October 25, 2022.

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In 2021, Fresno County farmers and ranchers experienced a record year of crop and livestock production with a gross value of nearly $8.1 billion.

Melissa Cregan, the county’s agriculture commissioner, presented her department’s annual crop report to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Last year marked the first time the total value of agricultural products grown and raised in Fresno County topped $8 billion, she said.

The record was achieved despite challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, logistics, drought and water shortages, which have left more and more acres falling below the threshold, especially in western Fresno County.

The value of crops and livestock at $8,057,567,000 represents an increase of more than $117 million, or nearly 1.5%, over 2020, Cregan told the panel. She added that while the numbers show the raw value of goods produced in 2021, they do not reflect production costs and do not represent the profits or losses made by the county’s farmers and ranchers.

Almonds and grapes were the only agricultural crops in Fresno County to exceed $1 billion in 2021 value. Almonds maintain their place in the top commodity of the county for the ninth year in a row. About 364,000 tons of nuts were produced from about 286,350 acres in Fresno County, and farmers sold another 598,000 tons of almond hulls for processing into animal feed and other products. Together, the value of the nuts and husks was more than $1.4 billion.

The county’s grape crop — a combination of just under 173,000 acres of table, wine and raisin grapes — ranked second at nearly $1.3 billion.

Factors affecting crop value

Rounding out the top 10 products are:

  • Pistachios – about $722.1 million from just under 132,500 acres.
  • Poultry, including turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, fowls and eggs – about $537.8 million.
  • Milk – about $484.5 million from the production of nearly 25.9 million quintals, or more than 1.2 million tons of milk, by dairies across the county.
  • Tomatoes – About $419.9 million, including nearly $262 million grown on less than 63,000 acres for processing into sauce or ketchup.
  • Cattle and Calves – About $417.6 million in inventory for both dairy and beef production, including breeding stock, feeder calves and slaughter calves.
  • Garlic – Production of more than $286.1 million on approximately 22,610 hectares for fresh and processing use.
  • Oranges – About $239 million in production on 30,334 acres for both fresh consumption and processing.
  • Peaches – about $224.3 million with just over 18,000 acres of production for both fresh consumption and processing.

“I don’t know if there are necessarily any surprises,” Cregan told The Fresno Bee after the presentation to county leaders. “We were well aware that because of our water problems, we would see a significant decline in some field and vegetable crops. It’s just a given.”

The garlic crop, for example, was valued at more than $110 million below the 2020 estimate; even though production in 2021 was about 9,000 tons higher than the previous year, the price per ton was about $700 lower than in 2020.

Other top 10 crops with year-over-year price declines include oranges, down nearly $67 million from 2020; and peaches, which fell by more than $23 million.

“Obviously food prices are going up in stores, but that doesn’t necessarily trickle back down to the farmers,” Cregan added. “The growth by 1.47% is actually lower than what we had last year. … You hold your breath a little bit and hope we don’t lose value.”

Three factors affect the total value of a commodity: the number of acres planted or harvested for a particular crop, the yield or amount of produce harvested and the price of the commodity, she said. “From commodity to commodity, some increase in price, some fall.

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in planted acreage for a lot of things that are grown on the west side, vegetables and field crops that need irrigation, things that aren’t permanent,” Cregan told The Bee. “Just driving through there and seeing the amount of acreage that’s been cut, it’s a little surprising that we’re not seeing a decrease in (overall) cost.”

Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, said restrictions on water distribution had played a significant role in reducing the acreage of some crops suffering from thirst. “The fact that farmers were told they were reduced to zero (water) changed vegetable production, there’s no doubt about that,” Kuna said. “You have so many acres, but you only have water for so many acres. What trees or vines do you let go?’

“I still think the number is good for what we’ve been through,” he added. “But by reducing those acres, we’re also reducing the workforce” and the number of workers employed to work the fields and harvest the crops.

Which district won first place?

Fresno County has often ranked first or second among California’s 58 counties in agricultural production. But despite the 2021 record, reports released this year show the county has slipped to third place.

Fresno County edged out top-ranked Kern County, which reported more than $8.3 billion in marketable value, and Tulare County, where farmers and ranchers produced nearly $8.1 billion worth of crops and livestock.

Still, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen was pleased with the local report.

“The total is a little higher than I expected,” Jacobsen told The Bee. “But it’s so hard to predict with so many different cultures, the volatility, the ups and downs that you have. But in general, there are no special surprises.”

The 2021 report “shows once again how much this region is the food capital of the world,” Jacobsen told the Supervisory Board. “(The year) will be remembered for the uncertainty it presented to those involved in agriculture. Markets were still moving and trying to recover from COVID. The safety of our critical workforce remained a priority.”

“Container and port issues have jeopardized our ability to deliver crops to international markets,” he added. “And the second year of the drought was one of the driest on record for some of our local watersheds.”

A lifelong Valley resident, Tim Sheehan has worked as a reporter and editor in the region since 1986 and has been with The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently a data reporter for The Bee and also covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.
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