Significant drops in the annual production value of avocados and eggs contributed to a San Diego County 2014 crop report with a total production value that was down from the 2013 figure.
During 2014, the county’s 5,732 farms grew crops with a total production value of $1.88 billion. The 2013 crop value was $1.85 billion.
“I’m not surprised that there was a slight drop in production,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson. “There was low production of avocados and low production of eggs.”
During 2013, avocados were grown on 21,082 acres in San Diego County and the 97,957 tons of production resulted in a crop value of $198.9 million. The 2014 production on 18,439 acres produced 59,091 tons and a value of $154 million.
“People are still exiting the avocado business because of the high price of water,” Larson said.
The other tree crop among the county’s top ten crops in production value had a slight economic decline but increased in acreage. Lemon production value decreased from $80 million to $76.66 million, but lemon acreage increased from 2,499 to 3,569. The 76,798 tons of lemons in 2013 equates to 22 tons per acre, while the 69,439 tons of 2014 production calculates to 19 tons per acre. The price of lemons per ton increased from $1,040 in 2013 to $1,104 for 2014.
Avocado production decreased from five tons per acre in 2014 to three tons per acre in 2013. “Avocados are alternate bearing. You’ll have very heavy bearing years and light- bearing years,” Larson said. “They could just bounce back up the very next year depending on the size of the crop.”
Most commercially grown avocados are of the Hass variety. The value of Hass avocados dropped from $183 million in 2013 to $148.5 million in 2014 with acreage declining from 19,784 to 17,405, tonnage decreasing from 91,778 to 56,422, and yield falling from five to three tons per acre.
The total value of Lamb-Hass avocados fell from $13,894,820 to $4,669,441 with acreage decreasing from 875 to 758, tons per acre dropping from six to three, and tonnage declining from 5,493 to 2,041. The value of all other avocado varietals increased from $726,693 to $902,427 despite an acreage decrease from 423 to 276 and a tonnage drop from 687 to 638; in both years, two tons per acre of all other avocados were harvested. In 2012 four tons per acre of Hass avocados were harvested. Lamb-Hass avocados had a harvest ratio of two tons per acre and a value of $2.25 million.
Although the county’s orange production value increased from $24,301,401 to $28,701,207, orange acreage fell from 6,656 to 6,170 and orange tonnage decreased from 64,469 to 55,577. The price of oranges per ton rose from $377 in 2013 to $516 in 2014 while yield dropped from ten to nine tons per acre.
Lime acreage declined slightly from 290 to 280, but a drop from ten to seven tons per acre led to a tonnage reduction from 2,900 to 1,876 and a value decline from $2,418,600 to $1,603,980 despite a price increase from $834 to $855 per ton.
Grapefruit tons per acre declined from 20 to 17 leading to a tonnage fall from 36,960 to 26,607 and a value decrease from $17.18 million to $12.33 million despite a smaller acreage drop from 1,680 to 1,538 and a slight price decline from $465 to $463 per ton.
In November 2008 voters passed Proposition 2, which required that commercial poultry have enough room in their cages to extend their limbs fully and turn around without obstacles. The requirement became effective on January 1, 2015. For many egg farmers that meant a reduction in their flocks so that the remaining birds could have the legally mandated space. San Diego County egg production dropped from 63,064,255 dozen in 2013 to 35,577,970 dozen during 2014 while production value decreased from $76,307,748 to $45,244,848.
“A lot of it may be that the farmers are depopulating their farms to be in compliance with Proposition 2,” Larson said. “As those investments are made in new cages, we may see that population of birds increase.”
The value of livestock and poultry products decreased from $84.71 million to $55.38 million. The value of livestock and poultry dropped from$28.79 million to $26.43 million, including a decrease in cattle and calves’ value from $23.34 millio to $20.64 million. Cattle and calves production declined from 15,441 to 11,100 head.
“Because of the drought there’s been less grass for grazing, so we have seen a thinning of the herds,” Larson said.
Some changes are due to reporting issues rather than actual crop fluctuations. The county Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures sends surveys to farmers, and data from industry groups helps make up for uncompleted surveys. In the case of less common crops, the loss or addition of a single grower or rancher can create significant changes from the previous year.
The county’s total agricultural acreage decreased from 305,573 for 2013 to 268,592 during 2014 primarily because a new data source that identified the decrease in the county’s rangeland crop acreage by 32,066.
“There was a change in the way that they measured grazing land,” Larson said. “It really doesn’t represent a reduction in agriculture.”
Range crop values decreased from $1.92 million to $1.31 million with acreage declining from 240,630 to 208,564. Range crops are considered field crops, which declined in value from $7.64 million to $6.644 million.
Crop rotation can account for some fluctuations. Strawberry acreage increased from 326 to 575 with tonnage rising from 11,084 to 18,795 and value increasing from $22.04 million to $37.95 million. The 72.1 percent growth was the greatest percentage increase of any of the county’s crops.
Tomato acreage dropped from 1,872 to 1,720 while tonnage declined from 28,080 to 25,800 and value decreased from $92.69 million to $81.87 million.
The value of potatoes is also subject to crop rotation activity, although a decline from $429 to $37 per ton led to a value decrease from $1,057,914 to $171,838 despite an acreage increase from 274 to 294, a harvest growth from nine to sixteen tons per acre, and a tonnage rise from 2,466 to 4,631. The grower indicated that a bad crop in 2014 caused a sale at whatever price the farm could get.
Apiary products declined from $2,517,936 to $2,281,956. The drought has reduced vegetation on which bees can feed, so the honey crop value fell from $971,438 to $150,573 and the beeswax value declined from $69,007 to $2,575.
The value of pollination services rose from $1.22million to $2.13 million. The drop in apiary production value was also caused by the elimination of bees, queens and pollen counts from the crop report due to confidentiality issues. In 2013 bees and queens contributed $168,490 to the county’s crop value while pollen was responsible for $90,000.
In 2010 the county adopted a tiered winery ordinance which relaxed the permitting requirement for boutique wineries to have tasting rooms and on-site sales.
The transition from the planting of vines to commercial production is a multi-year endeavor, but wine grape acreage has been increasing steadily. Harvested acreage rose from 752 in 2012 to 842 in 2013, but the wine grape growers continued to expand their planting. “We still saw a jump of nearly 100 acres,” Larson said.
Wine grape acreage increased from 842 in 2013 to 923 during 2014 while tonnage increased from 4,210 to 4,246 and value rose from $6.51 million to $6.57 million.
The county’s total produce and nut crop value declined from $586 million to $543 million.
Nursery and cut flower products account for about 65 percent of the county’s agricultural production with produce and nuts comprising 30 percent, livestock and poultry products accounting for 3 percent, livestock and poultry providing 2 percent, and field crops, apiary products, and timber products accounting for less than 1 percent each. Although the county’s nursery and cut flower products acreage fell from 12,776 in 2013 to 12,702 in 2014, the value of those crops increased from $1.14 billion to $1.18 billion.
“Nursery continues to be the big item in our county,” Larson said. “Nursery took a big jump.”
The county’s horticulture growers provided the three crops with the highest 2014 value. Ornamental trees and shrubs increased from $424.86 million to $439.17 million and indoor flowering and foliage plants rose from $329 million to $363 million.
The value for forest products, which consist of firewood and timber, rose from $886,560 to $901,572.
The 2014 total crop value was still above the 2012 total of $1.74 billion.