STANISLAUS COUNTY — Stanislaus County farmers had a record $3.28 billion in gross income last year, a report released Tuesday said, and almonds almost knocked milk from the No. 1 spot.
The 7 percent gain over 2011 came mainly from almonds, walnuts, chickens, tomatoes and grapes, Agricultural Commissioner Milton O'Haire told the Board of Supervisors.
He cautioned that the annual report does not account for production costs, notably the high-priced feed for dairy cattle. Nonetheless, board members took the 2012 total as proof that agriculture in general is thriving.
"It dwarfs any other industry in Stanislaus County," said Supervisor Jim DeMartini, a farmer himself. "It's our No. 1 employer and the driver of our economy."
It was the 10th year-to-year gain in the past dozen years and likely will keep Stanislaus among the top 10 farm counties in the state and nation.
DeMartini noted how the gross income ripples through the local economy: Farmers buy fertilizers, pesticides, tractors and other things they need to raise crops and livestock. The raw products go to wineries, canneries, poultry plants and other processors that employ thousands of people.
"The multiplier effect is probably $15 billion," agreed Supervisor Terry Withrow, a farmer and accountant. "... We're always chasing the newest and latest business, but let's look at what we have at home right now."
Milk has been the top-grossing product in crop reports going back to the 1940s. Almonds have been No. 2 since 1992, trailing dairy by a large margin in most years.
The nuts got within 1.4 percent in 2009, when milkprices plummeted. The gap widened the next two years, then closed to 0.5 percent last year.
Central Valley almonds have boomed thanks to strong global demand for the nuts, which now are considered a healthy fat, and a lack of major competition from other growing regions.
Dairy farmers, on the other hand, are part of a world market where supply often exceeds demand. Prices have improved somewhat since 2009, but not nearly at the pace for almonds.
Almond income would have surpassed milk last year if the income from almond hulls were not listed separately in the report. The main market for the hulls happens to be dairy feed.
Despite the troubles for dairy farmers, milk production continues to grow, and many county residents work at plants that make cheese, ice cream, butter and other products.
Grapes do well
The report also reflects the strength of the wine industry. Grapes moved into the county's top 10, thanks to increased tonnage, although the area's big wineries get the vast majority of their grapes from other parts of California.
Peaches and apricots long-established crops that have struggled in the market in recent years saw improved numbers last year. Cherries, apples and melons gained, too.
The report also notes the county's niche products goat milk, quail eggs, pumpkins, rice and many more.
Crop reports for 2012 still are coming in from California counties. For 2011, Fresno was No. 1 in gross income, followed by Tulare, Kern, Monterey, Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin.
Good and bad times
The strength of farming and food processing stands in contrast to other sectors of the local economy over the past decade. Housing prices surged until 2005, then collapsed, and they are only now starting to recover. The crash nearly wiped out the construction industry and led to job losses in retail, government and other areas.
Board chairman Vito Chiesa, another farmer, said it took 100-plus years for the county to reach $1 billion in gross farm income, 16 years to reach $2 billion and just five more to top $3 billion.
He said water shortages could threaten growth, but he noted gains in irrigated acreage, such as a 7,296-acre annexation to the Oakdale Irrigation District that could win final approval tonight.
The crop report, Chiesa said at the meeting's start, is "one of our favorite presentations of the year."
The 2012 report is at www.stanag.org, along with reports dating to 1940.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.
OTHER SIZABLE CROPS
Peaches: $62.5 million, up from $57.2 million
Cherries: $47.4 million, up from $42.1 million
Apricots: $26.1 million, up from $22.6 million
Apples: $22.3 million, up from $10.4 million
Melons: $19 million, up from $12.9 million
Citrus: $6.8 million, up from $5.4 million
Dried beans: $38.3 billion, up from $34.5 million
Sweet potatoes: $8.1 million, down from $10 million
Eggs (chicken): $32.7 million, up from $32.2 million
Almond hulls: $47.3 million, up from $43.6 million
Alfalfa hay: $61.8 million, down from $70.1 million
Oat hay: $16.1 million, down from $24.6 million
Other hay: $7.9 million, down from $9.2 million
Irrigated pasture: $6.5 million, up from $6.4 million
Rangeland: $8.2 million, down from $8.7 million
Ornamental trees and shrubs: $28.6 million, up from $20.5 million
Miscellaneous nursery: $16.4 million, up from $3.7 million
Pollination services: $48.1 million, up from $43.4 million
Honey: $8.4 million, up from $5.9 million
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE
Cauliflower: $5.3 million
Broccoli: $4.7 million
Succulent beans: $3.8 million
Spinach: $2.1 million
Wheat: $4.6 million
Rice: $2.8 million
Hogs and pigs: $2.5 million
Goat milk: $980,000
Sheep and lambs: $185,000
Squab (young pigeons): $2.6 million
Game birds: $25,000
Duck eggs: $283,000
Quail eggs: $22,500
Manure: $4.7 million
Almond shells: $3.7 million
Beeswax: $1.49 million
Queen bees: $189,000