Local News

Tuesday, Aug 06 2013 01:30 PM

A good year: Grapes make Kern state’s No. 2 ag power

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Just picked off the vines, these Crimson seedless grapes are ready to be boxed in a vineyard north of Arvin that is part of Kirschenman Enterprises, owned by Wade Kirschenman.

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  2. 2 of 4

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A worker moves to another row to begin boxing the Crimson seedless grapes that are being picked in a vineyard near Tower Line and DiGorgio roads that is part of Kirschenman Enterprises, owned by Wade Kirschenman.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Francisco Ramirez wheels another load of freshly picked Crimson seedless grapes to an area in the vineyard where they will packaged and boxed in this Aug.6, 2013 file photo.

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  4. 4 of 4

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Maria Hinojosa prepares grapes for packaging, which will then be placed in a box whose total weight will be 20.5 pounds, in this Aug. 6, 2013 file photo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The new Kern County Crop Report is out, and it may be time to raise a glass of the finest vintage.

Not only is Kern County now the No. 2 agricultural producing county in the state, but it’s stomping closely behind Fresno County, with agricultural commodities valued at more than $6.2 billion.

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That’s the first time the gross commodities value has ever topped $6 billion, and it’s an 11 percent increase from 2011.

And it’s due in large part to our gorgeous grapes.

Thanks to satellite mapping of grape vineyards, high prices and strong yields, grapes were the No. 1 agricultural commodity in the county, at nearly $1.5 billion.

That’s an increase of more than 50 percent from their initial 2011 ranking, when grapes first were ranked at $707.6 million total value, making them our No. 3 agricultural commodity.

Also according to the 2012 report presented to the Kern County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, almonds are now our No. 2 commodity at $821.9 million; milk is No. 3 at $690.1 million; fresh and processed citrus is No. 4 at $620.4 million; and pistachios are No. 5 at $486.2 million.

Grapes, however, had a banner year. Their meteoric rise is due in part to changes in the way the Kern County Department of Agriculture & Measurement Standards maps vineyards.

This year, the county stopped using U.S. Department of Agriculture mapping data and started buying its own satellite maps of vineyards.

The images provided a more exact picture, literally, of county vineyards.

As a result, the 2011 harvested acreage for all grapes reported was adjusted upward, from 79,500 acres to 104,700 acres, an increase of 25,200 acres.

The total value of the 2011 grapes commodity grew too, to $955.4 million, an increase of $247.8 million.

In Tuesday’s report, grapes’ 2012 value gave Kern County’s overall production the boost it needed to top Tulare and Monterey counties.

“It’s our different calculation for the grapes,” said Glenn Fankhauser, deputy director of the Kern County Department of Agriculture & Measurement Standards. “It’s so substantial that it’s going to mean we’re going to stay much higher than Monterey County for a long time.”

Growers agreed.

“Satellite is the only way to go to make crop maps. You can almost get close enough that you can count vines and rows, and you can measure the exact acreage to the 10th of the acre. It’s a very good tool,” said Rick Deckard, manager of permanent crops for Kirschenman Enterprises of Bakersfield, which also uses GPS to customize its fertilizer blends to individual vineyards.

In 2012 county rankings, Fresno County is the state’s No. 1 agricultural producing county at $6.6 billion. Tulare County is No. 3 at $6.2 billion, and Monterey County is No. 4 at $4.1 billion.

“Instead of Monterey, we’re going to fight it out with Tulare,” said Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo.
County supervisors were impressed with the report.

“That means that the economy is improving and hiring is up,” said Supervisor Mick Gleason.. “What’s good for the agricultural industry is good for the rest of Bakersfield.” 

In actual numbers, Kern and Tulare counties are just more than $1.6 million apart. Kern County’s total value is $6,212,362,100 while Tulare’s is $6,210,693,000.

Agricultural officials are so confident in the county’s national power as a producer that the Kern County Farm Bureau proclaimed Kern County the “second largest agricultural producing county in the nation,” according to a press release issued Tuesday.

“The last time (the National Agricultural Statistics Service) did an entire report on the entire U.S. was in 2007, but I don’t think much has changed since then, on California being an agricultural powerhouse,” said Benjamin McFarland, the Farm Bureau’s executive director, referring a reporter to the NASS.

The statistics service, which is a department of the USDA, hasn’t done a nationwide survey of county agricultural production since 2007, when Kern County ranked third in the state and the nation, in agricultural production.

“There are no other counties in the U.S. that have higher gross values of agricultural commodities than those two counties,” said Dave DeWalt, deputy director of the USDA California field office, referring to Kern and Fresno counties. “I don’t have any way of verifying that (Kern is No. 2) right now.”

A new NASS nationwide survey is expected in 2014.

Being No. 2 was still fine news Tuesday to pistachio and almond growers, who are expanding their acreage in response to burgeoning international demand.

“The almond growth, in terms of shipments, has been right across the board. We’ve continued to grow domestically as well,” said Richard Waycott, president of the Almond Board of California, pointing out that during the 11 months that ended in June 2012, almond growers shipped 537 million pounds to domestic customers, and nearly 1.2 billion pounds to international customers.

Dairy farmers saw their milk “crop” drop from second to third place, and a spokesperson said that even as farmers produce more milk, feed, fuel and insurance prices rise, resulting in razor-thin profit margins.

“Yes, we’re producing more, but we’re receiving less because costs have gone up,” said Betsy Hunter, Central Valley representative of the Milk Producers Council.

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