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Merced County hit record $4 billion crop value in 2014

Dairy cows chow down at the RV Dairy farm owned and operated by dairy farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis in Winton in March. Milk remained Merced County’s top commodity, with value growing to nearly $1.5 billion, according to the report released Monday.
Dairy cows chow down at the RV Dairy farm owned and operated by dairy farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis in Winton in March. Milk remained Merced County’s top commodity, with value growing to nearly $1.5 billion, according to the report released Monday. Sun-Star file

Merced County crops in 2014 reached a record value of more than $4 billion, with milk and almonds holding steady as the top crops, the Merced County Department of Agriculture said in a report provided Monday.

Despite being in the third year of drought and increasing production costs, David Robinson, the Merced County agriculture commissioner, said 2014 was a “good” year for most crops.

The report said 2014 was the first year that Merced County surpassed the $4 billion mark in gross production value, reaching a total of $4,429,987,000.

Milk remained the county’s top commodity, with value growing more than 25 percent to nearly $1.5 billion. Almonds came in second, with a value of $790,754,000.

$4,429,987,000Merced County gross agriculture commodities for 2014

Cattle and calves rose to the No. 3 commodity, trumping chickens. Cattle production decreased while prices increased, the report said.

Locally, cattle farmers sold their herds because they didn’t have enough feed and water to maintain them, Robinson said. That meant those herds were not in Merced County anymore.

“We will see a different effect in 2015,” he said.

Anja Raudabaugh, the CEO for Western United Dairymen, agreed: “The cow numbers tell the story.

“If the drought wouldn’t have been here, all those cows would’ve gone to milking,” she said.

$350,092,000Gross production value for cattle and calves in Merced County for 2014

The increase in milk value is due to better milk prices in 2014 and dairy farmers’ increased efficiency and production in each cow, Raudabaugh said. Dairy farmers use nutrient management programs for cows, and paired with genetic improvements, production from individual cows has increased quite a bit, she said.

Prices for other dairy products, such as butter, also have increased, helping boost milk value, she said.

25 percentIncrease in value of milk in Merced County for 2014

Robinson also noted that just because agriculture values are increasing doesn’t mean farmers are making more money. Production costs also have increased, one of them being the cost of water.

In the third year of drought, Robinson said water was redirected to higher-value crops, such as almonds and sweet potatoes.

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