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Weather Helps Crush Wine Grape Production in 2016, Crop Report Says

Strawberries still reign at top in Santa Barbara County, but broccoli moves into second spot after wine grapes fall to third

With yields down to to poor weather conditions, wine grapes dropped to three place in crop value in Santa Barbara County in 2015.
With yields down to to poor weather conditions, wine grapes dropped to three place in crop value in Santa Barbara County in 2015. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Strawberries remained in the top spot among Santa Barbara County’s crops in 2015, but a significant decrease for wine grapes meant they slipped into third place while broccoli moved into number two slot for value. 

Ag Commissioner Cathy M. Fisher recently released the 2015 crop report, revealing total gross production of $1,479,092,562, down from the previous year’s totals by 0.7 percent or nearly $11 million.

“A fifth consecutive year of below normal precipitation and increasing production costs, the 2015 growing season was challenging for some but not all commodity groups,” Fisher said in the report.

The ag industry also is dealing with a labor shortage estimated at 25 percent, she said.

Despite lower numbers, strawberries retained the top spot with a value of $438 million, down from $464 million the previous year.

A difficult year for wine grape growers saw a drop from $155 million in 2014 to $106 million in 2015.

Broccoli moved up to second place in crop values in Santa Barbara County in 2015. Click to view larger
Broccoli moved up to second place in crop values in Santa Barbara County in 2015. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“The drought caused a very early bud break, which coincided with windy conditions during the early part of spring,” Fisher said in the report. "This caused a poor fruit set, which resulted in very low production for wine grapes."

Growers reported 24,190 tons less in 2015, compared to 2014, with low prices last year compounding the problem for grape growers, Fisher added.

“The big driver of the low yields was weather,” said Kevin Merrill, from Mesa Vineyard Management, who added that the unfavorable conditions plagued the wine grape crop throughout the 2015 season. 

“It was the perfect storm of bad weather,” Merrill added. 

Prices for red varieties were down 12 percent and white varieties had a 9-percent reduction from the previous year.

However, Santa Barbara County growers received better prices than the state average, Fisher said.

For 2016, Merrill has hopes of higher value due to more favorable weather.

Low winds during fruit set and other suitable conditions lead him to expect average or better than average yields in 2016, Merrill said, adding it appears harvest will come early again.

The drop pushed wine grapes into third place as broccoli moved into second place, with $164 million last year, a $26 million increase above the prior year.

The county’s avocado crop also saw “a drastic reduction in 2015” with a slight decrease in production. In all, the local avocado crop dropped by $13 million, which caused the fruit to move from seventh place to ninth spot. 

One reason is growers reduced the number of acres in production by “stumping” trees due to the drought, county officials said.

Cane berries, such as blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, had “another robust year in 2015," the crop report said. 

Raspberries had a $15 million increase from 2014 while blackberries had a gross value of more than $13 million and blueberries fell shy of the $1 million milestone.

“Part of the success of Santa Barbara County’s cane berry industry is the ability to harvest early in the morning and quickly transport to nearby distribution centers by noon the same day,” Fisher said. “Cane Berries are then shipped to many international markets, as well as domestic markets throughout the country.”

Among the bright spots, cattle prices in 2015 rebounded, helping offset the fifth year of a drought. Livestock value grew by $6 million.

After strawberries at 37 percent, broccoli at 14 percent and wine grapes at 9 percent, the remainder of the top 10 were cut flowers, 9 percent; nursery products, 7 percent; head lettuce, 7 percent; cauliflower, 5 percent, raspberries, 5 percent, avocados, 4 percent and celery, 3 percent.

Despite the overall reduction, 2015 marked the ninth year Santa Barbara County’s gross ag production topped $1 billion, Fisher noted. Santa Barbara County ranks 13th among the 58 counties in California.

“Agriculture is the number one contributor to the county’s economy, and through the multiplier effect, contributes a total of $2.8 billion to the local economy and provides 25,370 jobs,” Fisher added.

The crop report can be found 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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