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Strawberries Hold Sweet Spot as Santa Barbara County’s Top Crop, But Broccoli Now No. 2

2017 Crop Report reveals some disaster damage but Thomas Fire’s full effects may take time to emerge

broccoli Click to view larger
Workers pick and package broccoli in a Santa Maria Valley field on Saturday afternoon. With strawberries solidly in the top spot, broccoli claimed the No. 2 position among Santa Barbara County’s top crops for 2017. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

While strawberries solidly smashed other commodities to remain at the top of the Santa Barbara County food chain, broccoli climbed into second place on the list of the county’s highest value crops, pushing wine grapes to the third spot.

The recently released 2017 Santa Barbara County Crop Report revealed that commodities grossed nearly $1.59 billion for 2017, an increase of more than $163.7 million from the previous year.

In addition to delivering the traditional crop report, the document also spells out some of the toll related to last year’s disasters, including the 440-square-mile Thomas Fire, which became California’s largest wildfire after igniting on Dec. 4 in Ventura County.

For 2017, most commodities saw a boost in value but some — such as wine grapes, dairy and apiary products, or those from bees — did not see increases, according to the report.

Strawberries accounted for $457 million in value, keeping the red gems at the top at 37 percent, compared to $158.7 for broccoli, at 12 percent, and $146.1 million for wine grapes, at 11 percent.

The previous year’s report noted that wine grapes had a value of $151.6 million, landing the commodity in second place with broccoli in third with $148.7 million.

“Broccoli replaced wine grapes in 2017 as the second highest valued crop due to an increase of price per unit,” Ag Commissioner Cathy Fisher said.

Among other highlights of the report, 2017 was an alternate (light) bearing year for avocados throughout the state, resulting in a decline in production.

“It’s worth noting, however, that the average price per pound was the highest ever,” Fisher said.

The avocado harvest was completed before the Thomas Fire so any losses will be included in the 2018 crop report, she said.

broccoli Click to view larger
Broccoli grows in a field off Sinton Road west of Guadalupe. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Thomas Fire also adversely affected the cut flower business in Carpinteria, with a loss of nearly $2.3 million.

However, the cut flower sector also saw a total increase of $10.6 million throughout the county from the previous year.

In all, the 2017 disasters added up to $13.3 million in agricultural losses. That number does not include losses from the Jan. 9 Montecito flash flooding and debris flows since those catastophes occurred in 2018.

It may take time to determine the extent of the losses to avocado, cherimoya and citrus groves, the report says.

“Groves that may have not experienced direct damage to their trees lost their entire crop due to the smoke, which caused the fruit to prematurely ripen and drop to the ground,” the report says. “It will take months of careful monitoring to determine which trees that appear charred and lifeless will bounce back, and which will have to be replaced.

“To make matters worse, it may take up to 3 to 5 years for replacement trees to be available from the nurseries and another 3 to 5 years for them to produce a crop.”

Orchards were not the only agricultural sectors to suffer the effects of the Thomas Fire.

Top crops in Santa Barbara County Click to view larger
A chart in the Santa Barbara County Crop Report reveals strawberries account for 37 percent of commodities based on value, followed by broccoli and wine grapes. (Santa Barbara County Crop Report illustration)

“Cut flower businesses in Carpinteria, also known as the ‘flower basket of the world’, suffered losses due to the ash that fell on the greenhouses that blocked the sunlight for weeks,” the report notes. “This resulted in delayed production for several months.”

Overall, total agricultural losses from the Thomas Fire alone added up to $11,752,443 while 40 farms were affected.

The annual report shows the economic health status for the ag industry, which plays an important role in the county.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 contributor to the county’s economy and, through the multiplier effect, contributes approximately $2.8 billion to the local economy and provides 25,370 jobs,” Fisher added.

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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