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San Luis Obispo County’s 2019 crop value second-highest on record
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San Luis Obispo County’s 2019 crop value second-highest on record

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Despite a 5.5% decrease from the record $1.2 billion set in 2018, San Luis Obispo County’s 2019 total crop value of just over $979 million was still the second-highest on record for the county, according to the Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures.

“We had fairly good growing conditions throughout the year,” said Martin Settevendemie, the county’s agricultural commissioner, adding the county received a fair amount of rain. “As far as I know, there were no real catastrophic events.

“Avocados hit a really high price, and we had good lemon production,” he added. “Unfortunately, lemon prices were low.”

The year also marked the first time industrial hemp was included among field crops in the report, after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill cleared the way for farmers to grow hemp as a legal crop.

Settevendemie said because of the rules on crop reporting and the small number of hemp growers, he couldn’t release the value of that crop.

But he said there were 16 registered hemp growers farming 452 acres “spread out across the county.”

Field crops, which also include alfalfa hay, barley, grain hay and grazed rangeland, had a total value of almost $24.2 million, a 29% increase over 2018, as a result of generally higher prices as well as yields.

Strawberries once again stole the crown from wine grapes as the county’s top crop, continuing a seesaw battle for No. 1 that began in 2011 when the berries toppled the grapes from their 20-year reign as the highest-value crop.

Since then, strawberries have been No. 1 in SLO County in 2012, 2014 and 2015, with wine grapes in the lead in 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Virtually all SLO County’s strawberries are grown in the Arroyo Grande Valley and around Nipomo, while wine grapes are harvested countywide.

The 2019 strawberry crop accounted for 28% of the county’s total crop value at a little more than $271.4 million, riding on high prices for both fresh and processed berries, Settevendemie said.

Meanwhile, the value of wine grapes fell by 8% to just under $254.3 million due to a market glut that resulted in lower-quality grapes not even being harvested, Settevendemie said.

Cabernet sauvignon topped the list of varietals with a value of just over $120.7 million, followed by chardonnay at nearly $18.9 million, pinot noir at a little more than $17 million, syrah at just over $16.9 million and merlot at almost $16.4 million.

Broccoli ranked as the third-most-valuable crop at almost $47.7 million, followed by avocados in fourth at nearly $38.9 million and vegetable transplants in fifth at just under $35.5 million.

Cattle and calves came in at almost $35.5 million, leaving the industry in sixth place as the number of head sold declined 18% to 36,765.

“This can be attributed to lingering impacts of drought pushing ranchers to sell less cattle in an effort to rebuild herds,” Settevendemie said.

Cattle ranching has seen a general downward trend in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties for several years. As recently as 2014, cattle and calves ranked No. 3 in SLO County.

Overall, the animal industry suffered a 15% loss in value, coming in at just over $41 million.

Broccoli’s cousin cauliflower ranked seventh at just over $31.3 million, as the vegetable industry as a whole ended the year with a 7% decrease in harvested acres coupled with a 5% decline in value, Settevendemie said.

But he noted that, collectively, all vegetable crops — which include cabbage, celery, kale, head and leaf lettuce as well as broccoli and cauliflower — account for more than 22% of the total crop value.

Numbers in the crop report represent only the gross value of commodities and do not reflect net profits growers receive nor the multipliers that represent secondary economic benefits.

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