Stanislaus farm income dipped in 2018. Here’s why experts aren’t overly worried

Gross farm income in Stanislaus County declined to $3.57 billion last year, officials said Tuesday, but they stressed the long-term health of the business.

The total is 2 percent off the $3.65 billion in 2017, Agricultural Commissioner Milton O’Haire said in his annual report. Lower prices for milk and walnuts counteracted another strong year for almonds, the top-grossing product.

The 2018 figure is well below the record $4.4 billion in 2014, when milk and nut prices were especially high.

County Supervisor Terry Withrow noted that farming has fluctuated far less than the home-building industry, which has yet to recover from a crash about a decade ago.

“What this report shows, as it always does, is just how important agriculture is to our county,” he said.

O’Haire presented the report to the Board of Supervisors in the morning and at the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau in the afternoon.

The state-mandated report does not reflect the cost of producing crops and livestock, and thus the profit or loss. Nor does it account for jobs and wages at processing plants, farm supply stores and other places where farm income circulates in the county.

That prompted officials to commission a separate report, also released Tuesday, that tries to track the ripple effect. It used 2017 production numbers to estimate that farming employed 29,192 people directly and another 5,233 indirectly. Total economic output was pegged at $7.15 billion.

The figures did not include the value of goods that were processed in Stanislaus County but grown elsewhere, notably most of the wine grapes, tomatoes and peaches. That would add about 7,000 jobs and $7 billion in income, the authors said.

The report was done by Agricultural Impact Associates, a consulting firm. It said farming generates about an eighth of the county’s jobs. It also said Stanislaus has an especially high degree of diversity in what it produces, so it can weather swings in prices, weather and other factors.

“Agriculture is stabilizing unto itself, but is also provides a stabilizing force to the county as a whole,” said Jeff Langholz, a senior researcher at the firm.

The crop report had this to say about the top 10 products in Stanislaus County in 2018:

1. Almonds grossed $1.11 billion, up from $1.06 billion in 2017.

2. Milk was down to $636.5 million from $663.7 million.

3. Chickens rose to $276.9 million from $254.7 million.

4. Cattle were up to $236.8 million from $233 million. The category includes animals slaughtered for market as well as young livestock sold to dairy farmers and cattle ranchers.

5. Nurseries producing trees and vines for commercial fruit and nut growers were down to $170.2 million from $226.7 million.

6. Silage was up to $135.9 million from $134.1 million. This is corn and a few other crops that ferment under tarps into high-quality dairy feed.

7. Walnuts were down to $102.6 million from $163.6 million.

8. Almond pollination by commercial beekeepers was up to $75.8 million from $67.7 million.

9. Turkeys were down to $64.3 million from $84.1 million.

10. Peaches were up to $56.6 million from $52.2 million.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.