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Record highs for almonds, organics; field and seed crops remain even in 2013

By From page A3 | August 10, 2014

Yolo County served up a bounty last year, recording the highest-ever gross income as almonds, olives and organic products logged huge gains, according to the 2013 Yolo County Crop Report released Tuesday. Field crops, vegetable crops and livestock essentially held steady.

Almonds earned $30 million more in 2013 than 2012, leaping from sixth to third place in the top commodities list. Because of foreign demand for nuts, almonds and walnuts saw a price increase of almost 45 percent, even though the county gained 4,000 more nut-bearing acres.

Given the incredible market and the 5,400 acres of young almond trees that haven’t yet produced a crop, almonds are poised to surpass tomatoes as the top-grossing product in the county, said John Young, the agriculture commissioner. Processing tomatoes have held first place for at least 50 consecutive years.

“We’re really a world-wide economy,” Young said. “As long as we have international demand, those prices will remain high.”

Booming nut prices, however, have driven up the price of land to around $16,000 an acre — a trend that mimics the dot-com bubble, said farmer Frank Muller of Muller Ranch. His family recently planted a new almond orchard, though, and Muller said he doesn’t see the demand slowing any time soon.

“When money is fluid, it always wants some place to go. Right now, that’s agriculture, so the money flows in,” Young said.

Organic production grossed about $20 million, largely due to organic commodity crops yielding almost as much as their conventional counterparts. UC Davis research into organic almond and wheat yields have been particularly fruitful, Young said.

Randii MacNear, who helped found the Davis Farmers Market, said she has seen the same increase in demand for organic products — 10 to 15 percent increases in sales each year.

“We were started by three of the pioneering founders,” MacNear said. “In Davis, in particular, people are very interested in getting organic produce.”

The full impact of the drought won’t be clear until next year’s reports, which will detail this year’s crop returns. Farmers fallowed 18 percent of their land, 10 percent more than in normal years. Ranchers in particular have had to sell off livestock, and that was clear even in the 2013 report: sheep farmers fell off the top 20 commodity list.

While Young doesn’t think the county is at risk of overextending its water resources at this point, he agreed that groundwater users may need to start paying for the benefits provided by surface water, a point made by the Yolo County Flood Control District director Tim O’Halloran on Tuesday.

“It’s a planning issue — how do we prevent problems to make sure we don’t end up like Paso Robles where they mine their groundwater,” Young said.

Elizabeth Case

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