Crops in the Northern San Joaquin Valley shifted dramatically in 2012, to nuts

jnsbranti@modbee.comMay 3, 2014 

Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties rank near the top in agricultural sales for the United States, but the just-released 2012 Census of Agriculture shows this region’s crops have shifted dramatically.

It’s nuts. Literally.

Less Northern San Joaquin Valley land is being used to plant tomatoes, grow peaches or raise cows, while almonds and walnut orchards have multiplied, the census shows.

The crop shift apparently reduced the number of agricultural workers needed, as the census recorded an 8 percent decrease in Stanislaus farm laborers hired in 2012 compared with 2007.

The value of Stanislaus’ agricultural products, however, increased more than 22 percent during those five years. The county’s farmers sold nearly $2.23 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2012, averaging $537,807 per farm.

That ranked Stanislaus seventh in the nation for agricultural sales, just behind San Joaquin County’s $2.25 billion and Merced County’s $2.97 billion. Fresno, Tulare, Kern and Monterey counties were tops in the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does its massive census every five years, and farmers are required to reveal extensive details about their operations. The census provides a wide range of demographic, economic, land, crop and livestock production information. It was made public Friday.

The data shows how dominant agriculture is here in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Example: No. 1 producer Fresno County farms 45 percent of its 1.7 million acres, while Stanislaus farms 80 percent of its land. Merced farms 79 percent and San Joaquin farms 88 percent.

Statewide, less than 26 percent of land is farmed.

Stanislaus farmed 768,046 of its 956,493 acres in 2012, which was about 20,900 less than in 2007.

Almond and walnut orchards, however, expanded steadily during those five years. Almond trees multiplied by nearly 12 percent to 138,162 acres, while walnut orchards increased nearly 16 percent to 28,051 acres.

Orchard acreage in general increased 27 percent in San Joaquin County, 11 percent in Merced and 8 percent in Stanislaus.

Livestock didn’t fare as well.

Stanislaus’ cattle and calf inventory declined 5.6 percent, falling below 400,000 head in 2012. The number of milk cows decreased 6.3 percent, dipping below 192,000. Meat-type chickens declined by nearly 1 million, which was a 9.9 percent drop during those five years.

Meat goats, by contrast, flourished in Stanislaus, which more than tripled its production of that ethnic specialty between 2007 and 2012. The county became California’s top meat goat supplier, with more than $1 million in annual sales. About 13,222 predominately Boer goats were found grazing on 188 mostly small farms.

Stanislaus also was California’s top producer of lima beans in 2012, but they were grown by fewer farmers and on less acreage than in 2007.

The decline in peaches and tomatoes was even more dramatic. Peach trees in the county declined by more than 40 percent in five years, shrinking to 3,898 acres. Stanislaus’ tomato fields contracted nearly 24 percent, dwindling to 9,812 acres. Vegetable acreage in general deteriorated by 8.3 percent.

Losing the most ground in Stanislaus was pastureland, which declined by more than 41,000 acres from 2007 to 2012. That was a 9.3 percent loss.

Many of those pastures now are planted with almond trees, but that’s a fact not included in the ag census.

The entire 2012 Census of Agriculture is available on the www.USGA.gov website.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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