Wine grapes are still SLO County's most valuable crop — with a record $267 million year

Wine grapes are again San Luis Obispo County's top crop, setting a new record and beating out strawberries for the second year in a row.

The county's agricultural products were valued at more than $924 million, down about half a percent from 2016, according to an annual report presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Martin Settevendemie, the county's agricultural commissioner, said the region had a "flat year" overall. In spite of fluctuations, the county's range of crops has continued to sustain the area's agriculture industry, he said: "Diversity breeds stability."

The county's crop value hovers between 15th and 16th in California, Settevendemie said.

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GRAPES VS BERRIES 2017_Tribune.jpg

The region's grapes were the big winner in 2017 posting a value of $267.6 million — up about 10 percent from last year's crop, which also set a record.

Two rainy winters have helped propel grapes past strawberries, which were the county's most lucrative crop in 2014 and 2015 — grape production rose 5 percent in 2017.

The yield could have been even better, but fluctuating fall temperatures resulted in sporadic grape ripening and hampered the harvest, Settevendemie said.

Strawberries take the No. 2 spot, cattle making a rebound

Strawberries were valued at $228.1 million down about 5 percent from 2016.

Growers have actually been increasing their strawberry acreage, and the crop continues to be more valuable per acre than wine grapes, Settevendemie said. But overproduction yielded an abundance of berries, lowering the value of the crop.

The county's recovery from the drought has also begun to improve cattle sales, which hit an 88-year low in 2016. Cattle and calves were valued at $43.2 million in 2017, up 8 percent from 2016.

Cattle and calf sales rose 3 percent, and prices increased by 23 percent, according to the report.

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"The cattle industry appears to be stabilizing relative to the prolonged drought experienced in recent years," Settevendemie wrote in the report.

Here are some additional points from the report:

  • Demand for avocados continues to surge, driving prices up to a five-year record high. Even so, total production was down, as the fruit's trees were in an alternate bearing year. Avocado trees are known to alternate between high-production and low-production years.
  • The value of field crops, such as alfalfa and barley, remained steady. Rain helped the farmers who sowed their fields ahead of the precipitation but hindered those who waited to plant. Wet weather also improved some rangeland, depending on the location.
  • Vegetable crops were negatively impacted by the timing of winter rain, reducing harvested acreage by 18 percent. Farmworkers also shifted toward grapes and strawberries — the higher-value crops — leaving vegetable growers with fewer workers.