Wine grapes were SLO County's most valuable crop in 2013

The fruit was valued at $220 million countywide in 2013, beating out $210 million in strawberry crops

dsneed@thetribunenews.comApril 2, 2014 

Grapes on the vine at the Niven family's Paragon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Wine grapes are back on top.

The San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture released its annual crop report Wednesday, showing that wine grapes edged out strawberries as the county’s most valuable crop in 2013. Strawberries had held the top ranking for the two previous years.

Total crop values for the year amounted to nearly $961 million, up 11 percent from 2012, said Martin Settevendemie, county agricultural commissioner.

“Despite challenging drought conditions and unusual weather in 2013, values reached record-breaking levels, which is a testament to the perseverance of the local agricultural producers,” he said.

Wine grapes of all varieties in the county combined for an overall value of $220 million.

Strawberries were given a value of more than $210 million.

Beef cattle came in third, valued at more than $100 million. This is an increase of 39 percent, though it is likely to be temporary because many ranchers sold off their herds as a result of the drought. Cattle prices were down last year, so it was sheer volume that brought the value up, Settevendemie said.

“Over the next year or so, we will begin seeing the effects of those herd reductions,” Settevendemie said. “The values will probably drop in 2014.”

For a county facing unprecedented drought, the annual crop report was remarkably upbeat.

Wine grape production grew 10 percent over the prior year. This was because of strong prices, high production levels and strong demand for locally produced wine grapes.

The strawberry industry also grew in 2013. Good weather conditions resulted in an increase of 13 percent in production.

Agriculture experts expect strawberry production to remain strong enough to rival wine grapes for the top spot. This is because of strong demand, good prices, favorable growing conditions locally and the ability to have as many as two plantings in a year and multiple harvests.

Vegetable production was also strong, showing an increase of 16 percent in value. Broccoli topped the list of vegetables grown in the county and placed fourth overall, with the total value placed at $64 million.

Poor growing conditions throughout the rest of the state because of dry weather kept demand and prices for San Luis Obispo County vegetables high. Lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage and bok choy were also strong producers.

Avocados ranked fifth and saw a remarkable increase in production of 79 percent over 2012 because of good production and strong prices. That crop was valued at $44 million. Avocado prices rebounded from a steep drop in 2012.

“We had a combination of increased total per acre production at a higher price,” Settevendemie said.

The drought took a toll on several areas of agricultural production that rely on rainfall, including field-grown flower seeds and field crops such as barley, grain and hay. The value of these crops dropped 34 percent.

Settevendemie noted that the crop report only represents gross sales numbers and does not reflect the ever-increasing costs farmers must pay to produce their crops. These include transportation, labor and fuel costs. The report also does not reflect the multiplier effects farm sales have on the county’s economy.

Printed copies of the report will be published in June.

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