Since taking a hit in 2009, Merced County's main economic engine is back in gear and revving up.
The agriculture industry saw a slight rebound over the past year after 2009's downward trend, according to recently released county data, which show the 2010 harvest posted the third-highest value in the history of the county. Agriculture commodities posted an increase of $273 million over 2009 numbers, according to the Merced County Department of Agriculture's annual Report on Agriculture, which was released last week.
The improvement is a welcome sign for county officials, since the 2009 numbers showed a decrease in commodity values of more than half a billion dollars.
With ag still serving as the county's largest industry, increases in commodity values are always welcome news, said Karen Overstreet, assistant agricultural commissioner. "Overall, it looked pretty good," she said. "There are always fluctuations in the markets themselves." One of the main reasons for the spike in overall commodity value was milk, Overstreet said. Both production and prices went up after a considerable drop-off the year before.
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Milk is the county's top ag commodity with an overall value of $862.8 million which is a 30.5 percent increase over the 2009 crop year, according to the 2010 Report on Agriculture. Prices increased about 28 percent for market milk and about 20 percent for milk used in manufacturing. Since the last ag report was released a year ago, almonds climbed into the second-most valued commodity in the county, overtaking chickens. Cattle and calves still rank fourth, followed by sweet potatoes.
Darren Barfield, operations manager of Quail H Farms in Livingston, said his sweet potato farm has just started harvesting the year's crop. The market is usually stable with some minor fluctuations, Barfield said.
Despite a recent decline in market price, this year's crop has good yield and quality, he said, adding that he expects an "incredible" demand for sweet potatoes over the next five years.
Acres of sweet potato harvest went up to 16,548 in 2010 from 16,361 in 2009, according to the 2010 Report on Agriculture. Price per unit for the crop went down by about 7 percent in that same time frame.
Increased demand is the cause of the bump in acres harvested, and Barfield thinks the jump in acreage is just the start as producers try to meet coming demand for sweet potatoes.
Since 2004, ag commodities have annually totaled more than $2 billion in Merced County, according to the report. The highest dollar amount came in 2007, when commodities totaled a little more than $3 billion.
Reporter Mike North can be reached (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.