Strawberries are 2014's top crop, but drought looms large



With the April 14 release of San Luis Obispo County’s annual crop report came yet another sign of the current drought’s profound impact.

For the first time since 2008, overall gross countywide crop values declined—from an all-time high of roughly $921 million in 2013 to just less than $903 million in 2014, a decrease of nearly 2 percent.

“The third consecutive year of drought conditions in 2014 impacted many crops,” Martin Settevendemie, the county’s agricultural commissioner, said in a statement. “The long-term effect will be felt for some time by local agricultural producers, workers, and associated businesses alike.”

Last year’s strawberry crop led the way, as it racked up a total value of more than $205 million. Wine grapes—2013’s top crop—followed closely with a total value of more than $203 million in 2014. Rounding out the top five crops were cattle and calves (roughly $130 million), broccoli (about $57 million), and “vegetable transplants” (approximately $34 million).

In the statement, Settevendemie noted that these gross crop value statistics don’t include production costs or “multipliers related to secondary economic benefits to the community.”

The roughly $130 million in total value of cattle and calves represented a particularly sharp 34 percent increase from 2013’s figure of about $96 million. Settevendemie said that the drought, lack of grass for grazing, high cost of supplemental feed, and strong cattle prices combined to result in record numbers of cattle sales.

SLO County’s avocado industry demonstrated an opposite but similarly drought-driven trend, with many farmers choosing to prune and stump their avocado orchards to save the trees from reduced or no irrigation. The total crop value for avocados in 2013 was just more than $44 million, but the 2014 value was essentially half that, plummeting to roughly $23 million.

“Agriculture continued to be a significant economic contributor in 2014 and represents a central component of the rural character enjoyed by the local community,” Settevendemie added. “Despite challenging drought and unusual weather during 2014, agriculture in San Luis Obispo County remains strong.”

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