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Census: California ag counties lead nation

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Nine of the nation's top 10 agricultural counties are in California, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Farm groups say the data underscores the need for water in the Golden State's farm belt.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — Nine California counties were in the top 10 nationwide for agricultural sales in 2012, according to county-by-county Census of Agriculture data released May 2.

Fresno County’s nearly $5 billion in value of agricultural products sold was greater than those in 23 states. Tulare ($4 billion), Kern (nearly $4 billion), Monterey ($2.98 billion) and Merced ($2.97 billion) rounded out the top five.

San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Imperial and Kings counties in California also made the top-10 list. The only top agricultural county not in California was Weld County in northern Colorado, whose winter wheat and other crops ranked ninth in the country at $1.9 billion in annual sales.

Farm advocates say the data only underscores the need for water in California’s farm belt, much of which has received no allocation this year because of drought and pumping restrictions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“The fact that most of these counties are located in areas suffering from serious or severe water shortages this year underlines the importance of making sure that California farms and ranches have access to the resources they need to sustain food production,” California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Dave Kranz said in an email.

California Citrus Mutual noted that the top three counties — Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties — are without water. The counties could be at risk of dropping off the list in the 2017 census if the state’s water policy doesn’t change, said Alyssa Houtby, the organization’s director of public affairs.

“In the next five years we’re looking at a $3 billion in agricultural value decrease in citrus,” Houtby said. “That’s based on the premise that if we don’t get water … 50,000 acres of citrus is at risk of being pushed out of production.”

Houtby said some growers are already taking out trees because of a lack of water. To water next season’s crop, growers in the region need at least 200,000 acre-feet from the Friant-Kern Canal, which could happen if the federal exchange contractors along the San Joaquin River receive at least 300,000 acre-feet from the Delta, Citrus Mutual asserts.

Now, growers are paying upwards of $1,200 an acre-foot for emergency water to keep their trees alive, the organization notes in a news release.

Amid one of the driest seasons on record, the federal and state water projects announced earlier this year there would be no agricultural water for those without senior water rights. State officials have since said they’d make 5 percent of normal allocations available, but only after Sept. 1.

The county-by-county statistics come amid thousands of pages of detailed information generated by the 2012 census. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released a summary of nationwide census data in February.

According to the census, the market value of agricultural crops sold in California totaled $42.6 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2007. Total farm expenses for California increased from $27 billion in 2007 to $35.5 billion two years ago, the census reported.

Fresno County’s 5,683 farms averaged $875,000 in annual sales as of 2012, with most of those farms — 3,629 — being small to mid-size, at 10 to 179 acres. In all, 4,521 of the farms are on irrigated land. Livestock and poultry-related businesses generated $1.3 billion of Fresno’s sales, according to the census.

California also leads the nation with 5,485 farms using renewable energy to power their production, according to the census. Solar is the most common renewable energy-producing system, NASS notes.


2012 Census of Agriculture: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/


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