Business

Strawberries slip but remain Santa Barbara County’s top crop in 2016

At California Giant’s The Berry Stop stand off Stowell Road in Santa Maria, Ale Ponce shows a half flat of strawberries for sale with many more available behind her. In 2016, strawberries were once again the top crop in Santa Barbara County.
At California Giant’s The Berry Stop stand off Stowell Road in Santa Maria, Ale Ponce shows a half flat of strawberries for sale with many more available behind her. In 2016, strawberries were once again the top crop in Santa Barbara County. Noozhawk.com

Strawberries are still Santa Barbara County’s No. 1 crop, but their value dropped for the third straight year, according to the 2016 Agricultural Crop Report.

Strawberries in 2016 had an overall gross value of $413 million, a drop of about $11 million from 2015. Some farmers in 2016 chose to produce less.

Wine grapes surpassed broccoli as the No. 2 most valuable commodity, and the gross production value of $151 million increased by approximately $45 million compared to 2015.

Santa Barbara’s top two crops also are leaders in San Luis Obispo County, where wine grapes were No. 1 in 2016 with a $242 million value, and strawberries were a close second at $241 million.

The overall agriculture gross production in Santa Barbara County topped out at a value of more than $1.43 billion in 2016, a decrease of 3.7 percent compared with 2015. SLO County’s total overall value for 2016 was $915 million, up 10 percent over 2015.

“Poor water quality and labor issues continue to impact most if not all commodity groups throughout the county,” Commissioner Cathy Fisher said.

On the berry front, “conventional strawberries are reaching the point of saturation,” said Dave Peck, owner of Manzanita Berry Farms. “The trend seems to be stronger for organic.”

Peck said strawberry crops were also hurt by an outbreak of anthracnose, which spots the berries, making them look rotten and inedible. Peck said he lost about 25 percent of his production last year. He also said that a wide labor shortage has hurt the crops.

“It has been a tight supply of workers,” he said. “You started to see more enforcement at the borders, which made it difficult for people here illegally to come and go.”

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County wine grapes continue to excel, with the report saying that this year’s increase was “due to a dramatic increase in production and price per ton.”

“Famous for ripe, yet elegant, chardonnay and pinot noir, the county’s wine industry is also gaining a reputation for Rhone varietals including syrah and viognier. Santa Barbara wine grapes now command among the highest prices anywhere in the state,” the report says.

The cut flower industry experienced a drastic reduction in overall gross production value in 2016, dropping by $30 million. The total value of cut flowers in 2015 was $105 million, which dropped to $74 million in 2016.

Flowers remain as the fifth overall most valued commodity.

The crop report also noted that the value of raspberry crops in 2016 dropped to $16 million, a $44 million reduction.

The value of blackberries crops rose to $23 million, an increase of $9 million from 2015.

Avocado production rebounded in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall gross production value was approximately $63 million, an increase of approximately $16 million.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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