Central Valley

Farm Beat: Merced joins other counties in ag income surge

Juan Carlos Manuel of Merced empties a container of freshly picked peaches on the orchard at Weimer Farms in Atwater in July.
Juan Carlos Manuel of Merced empties a container of freshly picked peaches on the orchard at Weimer Farms in Atwater in July. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

I read county crop reports with the same enthusiasm that some people read detective or romance novels. They brim with details about milk and nuts and other major products, as well as minor items like squab and beeswax and leeks.

The latest report, showing Merced County’s gross income in 2014, is notable in a few ways. For one thing, the county hit a record $4.43 billion, despite a drought that has been especially brutal to its farmers. And Merced barely kept its edge over Stanislaus County, which reported $4.4 billion, a difference of just 0.7 percent. Their 2012 numbers were even closer – less than 0.1 percent.

Last week’s release of the Merced report means all eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley have reported their 2014 numbers. The trends were generally the same: Dairy income soared thanks to high milk prices for farmers (which have since come back down). Almond tonnage leveled off because of the drought, but increased prices more than made up the difference. Beef cattle income also rose.

Farmers remind farm reporters that the figures are only gross income. They do not include production costs, notably water, which has risen with the drought. Dairy and beef producers have had higher feed costs.

Still, the gross income means a lot of money flowing into the region, and it circulates well beyond the farmers. They pay for labor, pesticides, fertilizer, tractors and other things they need to raise crops and livestock. Tens of thousands of people work at canneries, nut processors, dairy plants, wineries and other places that handle the raw products. All these people then spend their paychecks at an array of other businesses.

Tulare County remained No. 1 in the state, with gross income of $8.08 billion in 2014, up 10 percent from 2013. (I once covered agriculture in this county, which leads the way in part because it simply has a lot of flat, irrigated land. Its eastern border is Mount Whitney, at more than 14,000 feet, but bare rock doesn’t grow anything worth eating.)

Kern County was second at $7.55 billion, up 12 percent. No. 3 was Fresno, which for decades led the way; it was up 9 percent to $7.04 billion.

Monterey, the only non-Valley county in the top ranks, was fifth at $4.49 million, up 7 percent. It was followed closely by Merced and Stanislaus, then San Joaquin County at $3.23 billion, up 9 percent.

OK, so that’s a lot of statistics to digest in the days after Thanksgiving. Have a great holiday weekend, and return now to your crime yarn.

Merced’s top 10 for 2014

1. Milk: $1.44 billion in gross income, up from $1.15 billion in 2013

2. Almonds: $790.8 million, up from $672.8 million

3. Cattle: $350.1 million, up from $283.7 million

4. Chickens: $309.1 million, down from $330.3 million

5. Sweet potatoes: $217 million, up from $207.3 million

6. Tomatoes: $184 million, up from $125.3 million

7. Silage corn: $165.7 million, up from $128.5 million

8. Alfalfa: $150 million, up from $133.5 million

9. Eggs: $94.1 million, up from $76.8 million

10. Cotton: $80.2 million, up from $65.3 million

Online: The full report can be viewed at www.co.merced.ca.us.