By Craig W. Anderson

San Joaquin County's overall farm gate value rebounded from 2016's $2.3 billion and two years of double-digit declines, reaching more than $2.5 billion in 2017.

The 84th Annual Report of Agricultural Production in San Joaquin County revealed the gross value of ag production in 2017 of $2,527,989,000 represented an 8.13 percent increase over the 2016 value of $2,337,922,000.

Diversity unique

"The diversity of San Joaquin County makes it a very special place offering a wide array of recreational and occupational opportunities," said Bob Elliott, chair of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. "From the Delta to the Lodi wine region, to the economic vitality of our cities, San Joaquin County has something to offer everyone."

Top Ten crops and values

The Top Ten Crops is the gauge that generally tells agriculture's story and the top commodities in 2017 were, in order, Grapes, Milk, Almonds, Walnuts, Cherries, Cattle & Calves, Tomatoes, Potatoes, all Hay and Silage.

In 2017, No. 1 grapes had a value of $395.5 million, down from 2016's $425.7 million. "Growers saw lower yields for certain varieties from younger to older vineyards," said Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican. "Largely due to wet weather conditions in the winter causing difficulty getting vines pruned and it delayed treatments."

Brad Lange partner in Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards near Lodi, attributed the slight slide to "agriculture's general fluctuation in crops. A combination of having a little less production one year and more the next."

He said a settling of pricing for some varieties and lower yields affected the price but that, overall, "it was a decent year following a better year. But that's how it is in agriculture." If the No. 1 crop experienced a decline, the No. 5 crop, cherries, had perhaps the best year of any of the county's crops with the 2017 crop valued at $184.5 million, three times that of 2016's near rock bottom $58.5 million.

"In 2016 we had to declare a crop disaster due to bad weather," said Pelican. "In 2017 the weather cooperated and we ended up with the average crop."

By comparison, 2017's crop made it a "remarkable year" for cherry growers, said David Taylor, CEO and manager of Anderson-Barngrover Ranch Co, a family-owned operation growing cherries and walnuts in Linden. "The factors involved included weather that was inordinately beneficial and the cherries had an appropriate amount of chill hours. Weather throughout the growing season and harvest was very, very nice and bees were available."

He said some growers had problems getting labor for harvest but "the majority of harvest went fairly smoothly and prices were respectable. It was a much larger crop that cherry growers had anticipated." Taylor also said the transition from the Southern California harvest to the Central Valley harvest was smooth.

No. 2 milk's 2017 value was more than $387.3 million, up from $362.2 million and was part of the "positive upward trend," Pelican said. And Lodi dairyman and past Farm Bureau President Jack Hamm said, "San Joaquin is famous for the quality and quantity of our milk. Some of the top herds in the state are here and I think we have some of the best dairies."

Almonds were 2017's No. 3 crop valued at more than $362.7 million, up from the previous year's $348.8 million. Almonds have been in the Top Ten for a decade and new acreage has come into production each year and almonds contributed significantly to the Fruit and Nuts category's total value of more than $1.3 billion, the county's largest.

Walnuts, No. 4, had, said Pelican, slightly lower yields than 2016, the prices of walnuts were higher. "We have the best quality walnuts in the state and I believe that our farmers get better prices compare to growers in other parts of the state."

Additional Crops

Other Top Ten crops were No. 6 Cattle and Calves with a 2017 value of $104.2 million ($106.2 in 2016); No. 7 Tomatoes slumped to $78.8 million from 2016's $104.1 million; Potatoes improved to $63.1 million from 2016's $47.9 million; Hay improved in 2017 to $59.3 million from $49.2 million; and No. 10 Silage experienced an improvement to $51.4 million from $27.2 million in 2016.

Joe Valente, vineyard manager for Kautz Farms near Lodi, commented on the varied growing regions of the county. "You have areas like Ripon that grows most of the almonds, Linden the walnuts and cherries, Lodi the grapes and then these little sub areas within the county [for other crops]."

Other commodities

According to the report, among the other commodities, Field Crops increased 19.81 percent to $208.8 million largely because of a rise in the price of animal feed; Nursery Products increased 9.23 percent to $117.2 million.

However, there were some decreases: Vegetable Crops fell 8.62 percent because of lower prices and significantly fewer turkeys contributed to a 3.93 percent decline in Livestock and Poultry.

"San Joaquin County is unique, having such a vast amount of commodities grown here in comparison to the Midwest and other areas in California," noted Pelican. "Overall we were glad to see another good year as the total crop values were over $2.5 billion. Every year presents unique challenges to our growers and their passion for farming keeps them going."