Strawberries are again SLO County's most valuable crop

dsneed@thetribunenews.comApril 2, 2013 

Workers pick strawberries at the Hayashi farm in Arroyo Grande in 2005.


For the second consecutive year, strawberries are San Luis Obispo County’s top crop.

County Agricultural Commissioner Marty Settevendemie released the county’s annual crop report Tuesday. It showed that the total value for all crops in the county was a record-setting $861.8 million.

“This represents an increase of nearly 18 percent in value compared to 2011,” Settevendemie said in a news release. The total crop value in 2011 was $736.2 million.

Strawberries accounted for more than $205 million, representing nearly a quarter of the combined value of the region’s entire agricultural output. More than 123,000 tons of strawberries were grown on about 3,000 acres.

Pricing for fresh berries jumped 14 percent year over year, Settevendemie said.

Wine grapes remained the second most valuable crop in the county. All the varieties grown locally were valued at nearly $198 million, with cabernet sauvignon grapes the most valuable variety at $65 million.

In 2012, the county’s wine grape industry rebounded strongly from a frost in April 2011 that devastated that year’s crop. Wine grape production increased by 31 percent over 2011.

The county’s beef cattle industry held its own despite drought conditions that caused the herds to be smaller and reduced animal weight, Settevendemie noted.

However, prices for locally raised beef cattle were strong because of the nationwide drought. Total beef production in 2012 was valued at more than $69 million, an increase of 4 percent over the previous year.

Drought conditions also hurt field crops such as barley and grain hay, but the strong demand for animal feed kept prices steady. The value of field crops increased by 7 percent in 2012.

Avocado, lemon and orange production also increased in 2012 because of favorable weather, Settevendemie said. However, prices for avocados and lemons dropped by half.

Nursery stock saw a slight decrease in value in 2012. Indoor decorative plant production decreased by 17 percent, but strong demand for outdoor ornamental plants saw the value jump by 82 percent.
“For the first time in several years, nursery stock producers are beginning to expand production,” Settevendemie said.

The value of vegetables produced in the county saw an increase of 17 percent. Napa cabbage and edible pod peas both saw good increases in production, but labor shortages hurt the industry.

“Consisting primarily of annual crops, this agricultural sector tends to be speculative on assessing future customer demands with growers making adjustments from year to year on what is grown,” Settevendemie said.

With more than 100 various types of crops grown, the county’s agricultural economy is stable, he said.

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