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Strawberries Still in Sweet Spot as Santa Barbara County’s Top Crop

New report shows total agricultural production again exceeds $1 billion as wine grapes move into second place; broccoli falls to third

A field of strawberries grows along Betteravia Road in Santa Maria. Strawberries were Santa Barbara County’s top crop in 2013.
A field of strawberries grows along Betteravia Road in Santa Maria. Strawberries were Santa Barbara County’s top crop in 2013.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk file photo)

By Janene Scully, Noozhawk North County Editor | @JaneneScully updated logo 6:41 p.m. |

Strawberries remain Santa Barbara County's top crop, but wine grapes have knocked broccoli out of second place as the value of agricultural products grown here in 2013 again surpassed $1 billion.

This marks the eighth consecutive year that the value of Santa Barbara County’s agricultural products grown during the past year exceeded the $1 billion mark, according to Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher.

The figures were released Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office as part of the 2013 Agricultural Production Report.

Agriculture continues to be the county’s major producing industry with a gross production value of more than $1.4 billion in 2013, officials said. This is an increase of $145 million, or approximately 10 percent, when compared with 2012. 

The combination of increases in strawberry acreage and yield resulted in the continuation of strawberries’ reign as the county’s leading crop with a gross value of $464 million in 2013, an increase of more than $23 million from 2012, according to county officials. In 2013, strawberries were harvested from 7,313 acres, up from 6,657 in 2012.

Daren Gee, of Santa Maria-based DB Specialty Farms and a member of the California Strawberry Commission, believes the North County berry industry will only grow in the coming years

“The way the trends are it’s only going to get higher, not lower. We’re only going to produce more,” Gee said.

He credits the expected growth on increased pressure with regards to water, land, fumigation and labor issues for Oxnard berry growers.

Many U.S. growers are planting in central Mexico, but those berries aren’t ready at the same as Santa Maria Valley’s, Gee noted.

Santa Maria has a 10-month marketing window “so you’re going to see a lot of people coming in here because you can have such a long marketing window,” Gee added.

The county report showed that wine grapes had a bountiful harvest with strong prices moving the crop to second place with a total value of $163 million on nearly 21,000 acres.

Broccoli dropped to third place with a total value of almost $136 million on roughly 27,000 acres.

Head lettuce remained in fourth place at $75 million. Avocados stayed in fifth place with gross receipts of $49 million and complete the list of the top five commodities produced in 2013. The ag commissioner noted that the avocado harvest was impacted by lower than average temperatures in January and the lack of rain throughout the growing season.

Head lettuces and avocados had the same rankings in 2012.

“Santa Barbara County’s agricultural strength is due to our crop diversity and our position in the global marketplace,” Fisher said. “As the financial picture worldwide slowly improves, so does the demand for our fruits and vegetables. Agriculture continues to fuel the local economy, and through the multiplier effect, agriculture and related activities had a total contribution in 2013 of more than $2.8 billion.”

Additionally, blackberry and raspberry growers saw a 54 percent increase in production acreage, Fisher noted. The growth of this segment is noticeable with the addition of more “hoop houses” for growing those berries.

Santa Barbara County is California’s 14th-ranked county in total agricultural production. Fisher contends the success of the county's agriculture is in the diversity of the crops grown between Santa Maria and Carpinteria. More than 50 crops produced in 2013 reported gross receipts in excess of $1 million.

In comparison, San Luis Obispo County reported top gross crop values for 2013 of $960,710,000. Wine grapes were the No. 1 commodity in value in 2013 in San Luis Obispo County, followed by strawberries.

The Agricultural Commissioner’s annual report documents the acreage, yield and gross dollar value of agricultural commodities produced in Santa Barbara County. Officials stressed that the report shows gross values and doesn't include labor, production, transportation and marketing costs, which must be subtracted to determine net returns to growers.

The 2013 report, as well as the reports since 1916, can be found online by clicking here.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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