Reading the Crop Report

The 2011 Crop Report from the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner was released on Tuesday. This report always generates a lot of interest, and can be a very useful source of information. Here are 6 tips for a reader looking for a better understanding of Ventura County Agriculture.

It reports sales, not profits. The crop report only reports the value of the crop sold, not the amount the farmer had left in profits at the end of the year. In 2011, avocado growers “made” just under $92 million dollars. But that is without considering the costs of water, labor, interest, fertilizer, equipment, property taxes and more. Those costs averaged approximately $6,000 per acre, or just over $100 million for the 16,777 acres of avocados in Ventura County. Overall, Ventura County avocado growers probably lost somewhere around $9 million last year.

Rankings are relative. Most attention paid to the report is directed at the changes on the Top Ten list. After all, everybody loves a contest. But the movement of one commodity past another on the list really says very little by itself. Lemons “moved up” to the number three spot. Does that mean that lemons are doing better? Actually, the value of Ventura County’s lemon crop barely changed… up just one tenth of a percent. Prices were down and acreage was down. But, largely due to favorable weather, production per acre was up. Overall, the report is decidedly a mixed bag for Ventura’s favorite citrus.

Trends are the real story. The crop report reflects the changing dynamics of Ventura County agriculture. It is the history of our local farms as it is being written. $185 million in raspberry sales is an impressive accomplishment for the growers who made that happen. This milestone is worth attention because raspberries were not grown here in any commercially significant way until the late ‘90’s. When many parts of our country have barely seen their crops change in a century, raspberries have made a big impact on Ventura County in just a touch more than a decade.

Acreage points the way. The value of Mandarin oranges dropped this year due to a combination of lower prices and lower production (primarily because of weather). But don’t count the tiny oranges out yet. Acreage increased nearly 50% in one year, from 722 acres to 1080. This is a huge expansion, and indicates many very young trees that will be getting larger and more productive every year. The future will be small and orange.

When land is expensive, per acre production counts. How do you sell $10 million worth of cucumbers from 147 acres? By producing 61 tons on every acre. Highly intensive agricultural practices are expensive, but they can deliver staggering results. Cucumber sales nearly doubled from 2010, primarily due to incredible yields in greenhouse operations. Tomatoes also averaged more than 50 tons per acre in 2011. Take the time to look at per acre production in the charts.

Eat more kale. Ventura County now produces more kale (in dollar value) than livestock. The rise of this formerly obscure green into the $10 million club says something about the way American dietary habits are changing. Ventura County is one of the top nations in the nation for fruit and vegetable production. When Americans eat more salads, the money comes here.

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