Fresno County's 2011 crop values reached a record $6.8 billion, the latest in a string of record-setting performances that solidified the county's status as the leading farm region in the state.
But it is a record that's not likely to be replicated once 2012's crops are harvested, county Agricultural Commissioner Carol Hafner said Tuesday while presenting the annual report to the Board of Supervisors.
The county, home to more than 350 crops, had a banner year in 2011 thanks to an ample water supply, high demand for the region's major crops and good growing weather.
The county saw increases in nearly every major category, including field crops, vegetables, fruit and nuts and livestock.
The county's crop value surpassed the previous year's record of $5.9 billion. Fresno County has set records four out of the last five years. Other regions in the valley also reported record 2011 values: Kings County, $2 billion; Tulare County, $5.6 billion; and Madera County, $1.5 billion.
But any celebration over Fresno County breaking the $6 billion mark was quickly tempered by Hafner and others, who reminded the board that the annual report reflects the gross values of the crops, not farmers' net income.
"Certain segments of the industry, such as the dairy and stone fruit industries, are struggling significantly," said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
Hafner said rising prices for feed, fertilizer, fuel and labor likely ate away at some of the profits.
And she cited other hurdles that will dampen 2012 results: less federal water for west-side farmers; hail from March and April storms that cost county farmers about $26 million; and the dairy industry collapse.
Still, the 2011 report reflected several continuing trends in the county, including the growth of permanent crops such as almonds, the record demand for grapes, and the rise of specialty citrus and organic farming.
There was little shifting among the county's top 10 crops, with the exception of cotton, which moved up from the No. 10 spot to No. 6.
Fresno County cotton farmer Dan Errotabere said an increased allocation of federal water for west-side farmers, coupled with healthy cotton prices, caused acreage to jump 95 percent to 141,000 acres. The cotton crop's overall value rose a whopping 163 percent to $398 million.
"We saw prices that we may never see again," Errotabere said.
Raisin growers enjoyed the ongoing competition among the region's wineries and raisin packers. Demand for versatile Thompson seedless grapes pushed the price of raisin grapes to record levels last year. The high demand kept grapes in the No. 1 spot at $961 million -- its highest value ever.
Not far behind were almonds, one of the fastest rising crops in the county. Since 2009, almond acreage has risen 24 percent to 150,008 acres, and its value has jumped 63 percent to $832 million.
Pistachios, also a rapidly expanding crop, had somewhat of an off year. Although acreage climbed to 27,690, up 3.5 percent, the overall value dropped 20 percent to $177 million.
Peaches, one of east Fresno County's hallmark tree fruit crops, continued to lose acreage, plummeting 37 percent last year to 11,902 acres, and its value dropped 25 percent to $103 million.
One of the bright spots in the industry was the growing popularity of pluots, a cross between a plum and apricot. The region's larger growers have worked hard at marketing pluot varieties, making them a consumer favorite. Last year, the value of pluots rose 56 percent to $15.9 million.
Also resonating with consumers were sweet-tasting tangerine and mandarin citrus fruits.
The specialty citrus earned its own category in the annual crop report because of the growth in acreage. The fruit was grown on 7,488 acres at a value of $166 million.