A new study indicates that agriculture contributes $1.87 billion to the San Luis Obispo County economy and has created 20,645 jobs.
By comparison, tourism generated $1.2 billion in visitor spending in 2011, according to Visit San Luis Obispo County, the county's visitor and conference bureau.
The largest sector of the farm economy is fruit and nut crops, which include the important wine industry. This sector constitutes half of the farm production value.
But the report also concludes that the county's agricultural production is diverse and includes more than 100 different crops, such as strawberries, as well as cattle ranching.
"On the whole, the findings offer important information for policy makers, the agricultural industry, the public and anyone who values a vibrant local economy," the report said.
The main findings of the report are:
- Of the $1.87 billion total contribution, $1.3 billion is direct economic output, which represents 8.1 percent of the county's total output. The remaining $578 million comes in the form of multiplier effects, which are indirect benefits that a sector of the economy generates, including business-to-business purchases and spending by employees.
- Of the 20,645 total jobs, direct employment is 15,619, or, about one out of every 10 jobs in the county. The other 5,027 jobs are created by the farm economy's multiplier effect.
- Taxes paid by the farm industry constitute $45.9 million or 10 percent of the county's annual budget.
- The exceptional diversity of the county's crop output provides economic stability within agriculture and the county economy as a whole.
While the county's farm economy is one of the most diverse in the state, its diversity has slipped 12 percent in recent years due to the growing importance and value of wine grapes and strawberries, said Jeff Langholz, a consultant with Agricultural Impact Associates, the firm that conducted the study.
Martin Settevendemie, county agricultural commissioner, said the study is intended to be "another piece in the puzzle" that county policy makers can use in their decision making. He hopes to update the study every three years, if funds are available.
The study cost $15,000 and was paid for by using unexpected savings realized from the department's previous fiscal year's budget, Settevendemie said.