Almonds routed milk from the top spot among Stanislaus County farm products last year, part of a record $3.66 billion in gross income reported Tuesday.
The nuts brought an estimated $1.125 billion, up 53 percent from 2013, the first time any product has topped $1 billion, Agricultural Commissioner Milton O’Haire said.
Milk grossed a record $804.4 million but nonetheless lost the top ranking, which it had held since at least 1940. Walnuts rose to third place, and chicken and cattle virtually tied for fourth. Tomatoes and turkeys had big losses.
The countywide total was up 12 percent from 2012, despite a drought now in its third year.
“I think you can see in the report that the economic impact agriculture has in this community is tremendous,” said Joey Gonsalves, president of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. He was speaking to the county Board of Supervisors, which received the annual report from O’Haire.
The commissioner stressed, as usual, that the report reflects gross income, not production costs or profits. Dairy farmers have had an especially rough time in recent years because of feed and other costs, but 2013 brought higher prices for their milk.
That product goes to plants that employ thousands of county residents in the making of cheese, butter and other dairy products. Others pack almonds and walnuts, turn grapes into wine and process poultry. Still others provide tractors, pesticides, loans, and other goods and services to farmers.
Supervisor Terry Withrow said the gross income multiplies out to about $14 billion in economic activity for the county.
“This is who we are,” he said. “This is what we are here in Stanislaus County.”
Stanislaus was No. 6 among California counties in 2012 gross farm income and likely will remain among the leaders once all of the 2013 reports are in. Tulare County is No. 1 by far, at $7.81 billion last year, putting usual leader Fresno County into second.
Merced County, fifth in 2012, has not reported for last year. Nor has San Joaquin County, which was seventh in 2012.
Milk had led the way in every Stanislaus County crop report on file, dating to 1940. Almonds were among the county’s midsize crops for most of that time, but they reached No. 2 in 1992 and stayed there for the next two decades.
The nuts’ astounding gain last year resulted from increases in acreage, yield per acre and price per pound. Almonds, like walnuts, have benefited from global marketing that highlights their nutritional value.
“So there it is – we’ve got a new No. 1 crop,” O’Haire told the board.
The gain might not hold up in the 2014 report. County officials noted the drought has gone from bad to worse this year, sharply reducing river supplies and raising concern about overpumping of wells. The groundwater use is especially controversial on former grazing land converted to almonds.
O’Haire said some of the annual crop acreage, notably tomatoes, is lying fallow so its water can be directed to higher-value plantings.
Dairy, despite losing the top spot, had a fairly good 2013. Farmers saw a 10 percent increase in average prices for their milk, thanks in large part to demand for powdered milk and other exported items. Feed costs eased, including corn from the Midwest.
Walnuts rose 17 percent in value last year, thanks to a healthy boost in prices, and vaulted over chicken and cattle to No. 3. Dairy feeds, nursery plants, tomatoes and grapes rounded out the top 10. The feeds include almond hulls, sold to milk producers by the very nut growers who seized the top ranking.
Three products – milk, almonds and walnuts – made up 59 percent of the 2013 total, but the report showed plenty of diversity in agriculture. The county continues to be a leading producer of peaches, apricots, eggs and several other products, along with niche items such as squab, pumpkins and turf.
“Farmers continue to show me how resourceful they are in the face of a lot of adversity,” Supervisor Vito Chiesa said.