The 2016 San Benito County Crop Report released by Agricultural Commissioner Karen Overstreet had a positive yield.
“San Benito County continues to be one of the top five producing counties in California of spinach, peppers, lettuces, and salad mix products,” Overstreet said. “San Benito is an excellent place to produce agriculture commodities.”
The overall value of the country’s agricultural products increased by 1.9 percent from 2015, growing from $360 million to $367 million. This growth occurred despite the fact that 2016 was a “slightly below average precipitation year.”
Vegetable and row crops remain the most valuable product produced in San Benito County, representing 73 percent of the total value in 2016. Fruit and nut crops follow with 13 percent of the total, then field crops with 8 percent. Cattle represented 5 percent of the 2016 total, down from 7 percent in 2015. Livestock and poultry were also slightly down, from 2 percent in 2015 to 1 percent in 2016.
The year’s low rainfall did negatively effect some commodities, such as walnuts. Overstreet said. “A dry, warm February (2016) pushed the fruit and nut trees and turned the rangeland grasses early. Therefore, tree crop yields were below average and the walnut yield was inconsistent as well as quality below normal.”
Greg Swett, who has been a walnut grower and seller in San Benito County all his life, agrees with Overstreet’s assessment as it pertains to a “significant” decrease in walnut prices for the second year in a row. The per unit value of a non-organic walnut in 2015 was $1,360, but that number fell to $875 in 2016.
“It was not a great year,” Swett said. “There has been a significant down-pricing in organic walnuts over the last three years … and a big chunk of that was last year. And it’s going to go down again this year,” he said. However, Swett does note that “on the conventional side, the (2016) crop was extremely large and the pricing over a period of time was fairly good in comparison to the year before.”
The California drought did Swett no favors. “It was incredibly bad,” he said. “The trees just didn’t have water, and production went down about 50 to 60 percent.”
However, the context for the 2016 price decrease, Swett said, is less about the drought and more about a “major adjustment in the crop pricing in 2015.” In 2015, the size of the walnut crop was extremely low after the worst years of the drought, so prices were higher. However, since 2016 saw slightly more precipitation compared to previous years, the crop size grew and prices dropped accordingly.
While walnuts and other fruit and nut commodities took a hit in 2016, there was good news for cattle and wine grapes. Wine grape yields and price increased by 69 percent, and wine grapes ranked fifth in the top 10 list of commodities produced in San Benito County.
The total cattle herd inventory also increased slightly, from 65,000 in 2015 to 68,680 in 2016. Jim Warren, the president of 101 Livestock Market in Aromas, says that he has seen “lots of changes,” and the past few years of California drought have been challenging. But it does seem like 2016’s improved rains, compared to 2014 and 2015, has resulted in the increase in the 2016 cattle herd.
“During the drought (in 2014 and 2015) we sold a lot of inventory and dropped the total number of cattle not only in San Benito County, but in the whole state of California,” said Warren. When there was more moisture in 2016, grass in the area improved, and larger cattle herds were able to be supported once again. Warren also predicts that the cattle herd will continue to increase in 2017.
In the report, Overstreet does note that “growers (in 2016) experience[d] a great amount of insect and disease pressure which effected market quality and a lower return in many cases.” Asian Citrus Psyllid, a small insect that feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees, was first discovered in San Benito County in April 2015. In 2016, five additional insects were detected, resulting in an increased survey area and an increased total number of insect traps.
The top export country from San Benito County in 2016 was Canada, with 1,607 total shipments. According to the report, “San Benito County biologists inspected and certified a total of 2,888 agricultural shipments to 64 countries in 2016. Trailing Canada was Mexico with 821 shipments, and Japan with 148 shipments. The Netherlands and Italy round out the top five export countries.
San Benito also sent shipments to more far-flung locales, such as French Polynesia (3), Uzbekistan (4) and the Syrian Arab Republic (2).
The crop report is available below.