Wine grapes still SLO County's most valuable crop in 2010, report says

A worker during the wine grape harvest at J. Lohr in Paso Robles last October.
A worker during the wine grape harvest at J. Lohr in Paso Robles last October. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County’s crop values reached a record high of nearly $713 million in 2010, and increased wine grape sales contributed about a quarter of that total, according to the agricultural commissioner’s annual report.

Last year’s gross sales compared with about $623 million in 2009, according to Agricultural Commissioner Marty Settevendemie.

“The mild summer and winter temperatures and ample rainfall provided ideal growing conditions in 2010 for many county crops,” Settevendemie said.

Wine grapes accounted for roughly $173 million in sales.

The mild weather helped red varietals increase in yield by 18 percent compared to 2009 tonnage totals.

Strawberries also saw a significant rise in yields and sales. The fruit earned about $123 million in 2010, compared with $73 million in 2009.

“Increased acreage and high returns for strawberries and other crops helped keep the local economy strong, reflected in the record-breaking combined value,” Settevendemie said.

Avocados showed the most dramatic increase in yield — rising 527 percent in a year — resulting in 22,640 tons of the fruit being harvested.

Coastal Hass avocados rebounded from hot weather conditions during 2009 and the freeze damage that hit growers hard in 2008.

But the price for avocados was only 62 percent of 2009 levels — yielding a total of about $35 million in sales.

While most vegetables saw a benefit from the milder and cooler weather conditions compared with 2009, bell peppers and squash declined in yields.

Leaf lettuce growers also reduced the number of acres they planted, resulting in a 6 percent decrease in overall sales.

Cattle enjoyed improved grazing conditions in 2010 over the previous three years of drought. Sales grew from $51 million in 2009 to $53 million last year despite smaller herd sizes.

The recession and its impact on the housing industry hit the local bedding plant and outdoor ornamental nursery producers hard, Settevendemie noted. Both categories saw production values fall.

To see annual crop statistics from 1968 to 2010, go online to www.slocounty.ca.gov/agcomm.