Ventura County's Support-Local Program

Looking Deeper Into The 2012 Crop Report

Local farmer Chris Sayer analyzes the 2012 Ventura County Crop Report and explains how it reflects the versatility and adaptability of our local farmers.

An overview

Every year, the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner releases the annual Crop Report, detailing the previous year’s production numbers and giving a glimpse into the ever changing face of Ventura County farming. This year the total value of crops produced in Ventura County was $1.96 billion. Often, coverage of the Crop Report focuses heavily on the “horse race” between strawberries and other top local crops, but there are deeper insights about Ventura County farming to be had by examining some crops that are expanding their footprints. The 2012 Crop Report reflects the versatility and adaptability of Ventura County’s farmers. Here’s a quick look at four crops that illustrate the relationship between emerging food preferences and our benign climate that makes Ventura County one of the most productive farm belts in the world.

A few notes before we get started

The dollar values quoted are from the Crop Report, and reflect the gross sales of each crop. A crop with a higher total value is not necessarily more profitable. From that number, farmers must pay their expenses for labor, taxes, water, fuel, equipment and the like. More so than many other industries, the dollars spent by Agriculture are spent locally.

Blueberries

For the first time, blueberries are listed as a category separate from their raspberry cousins. $13,818,000 is an impressive debut, especially considering that it only represents 526 acres. Many of these acres have been added in the past year, meaning the bushes are not yet fully productive. While not a traditional crop to this area, blueberries fit with a well-established Ventura County farming strategy: leveraging our climate to produce when others can’t. A Ventura County winter feels a lot like spring in traditional blueberry production areas in Michigan, Washington and Maine. Blueberry varieties selected for this area get a jump start on the competition, reaching market when the only other options are blueberries imported from abroad at considerable expense. Freshness gives an advantage that is likely to translate into more acres in the future. Farmer’s Market icon Underwood Family Farms has been a leader in local blueberries.

Kale

Not long ago, kale was a fairly obscure green. But recently it has become recognized as a “superfood,” beloved by celebrities and health experts alike. Showing up in everything from soups to salads and smoothies, kale is versatile, tasty, and healthy. Consumption has jumped more than 70% nationally in the past two years; made possible by increased production by growers like San Miguel Produce of Oxnard. “Kale is the new darling of the vegetable world for its nutrient density” says San Miguel’s Jan Berk. With $21,815,000 worth of kale produced on 677 acres, kale is rapidly becoming a darling of Ventura County agriculture as well. Currently in the eleventh spot on the Crop Report, kale will certainly break into the Top Ten before long.

Cilantro

Cilantro has been a Ventura County staple for some time. Quick to grow, a cilantro crop can be planted any time of year as part of a rotation with peppers, celery or tomatoes. Featured in everything from guacamole to Thai food, cilantro is becoming increasingly popular for a wide range of consumers. Acreage for cilantro actually dropped in 2012 from the year before, to 3,397 acres, but strong prices propelled the pungent herb into the Top Ten. $23,438,000 will buy a lot of cilantro: nearly 29 tons! Considering how sparingly it is used, that is enough to supply an awful lot of diners. Deardorff Organics expects cilantro to be a regular item in their new Fresh Picks CSA boxes.

Mandarin oranges

Citrus fruits have a rich history in the county, but once popular choices like Valencia oranges are giving way to easy-to-peel mandarin varieties. Total mandarin acreage is still less than Valencias, but with planted acreage jumping nearly 25% last year, expect the production and crop values of the small citrus to overtake their larger, older cousins before long. Pixie Tangerines from the Ojai Pixie Growers Association played a pioneering role in winning customers for the tasty little fruit. Mandarin sales more than doubled from 2011 to reach $10,328,000. For comparison, as recently as 2005 the dollar value of all Ventura County mandarins was still less than $1 million. A 1,000% increase in only seven years is fast by any measure. But for a tree that takes several years to reach maturity, this is a truly spectacular trajectory.

Looking toward the 2013 report

As this is written, the 2013 crop year is well underway. A dry winter and brief freeze will show up in the numbers to be sure. Strawberries will once again be the top crop, but expect to see more variety in next year’s report as local growers continue to adapt to consumer preferences, global competition and unpredictable weather. Image credits: Ventura County Agriculture Commissioner, THOR, Peet Sneekes, Jackie Finn-Irwin, Iryna Yeroshko and Jim Martin.

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Learn more about author Chris Sayer

Chris Sayer

About the author

Chris Sayer is a fifth generation farmer and writer. His avocados, citrus and figs from Petty Ranch help provide the local flavor at a number of Ventura County restaurants. Chris writes about local food and farming for TLVC. He recently published Picking our Future: Essays on Food, Change, and Farming. Check out his website at www.saticoyroots.wordpress.com.

 

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