County ag report shows ups and downs of Valley production

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EL CENTRO – In agriculture, 2016 was a banner year with a seven percent plus increase in gross sales in the Imperial Valley, according to the recently released Agricultural Crop and Livestock Report issued by Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz. The required accounting of each year’s production in grains, forage, vegetables, fruit and livestock represents only the gross value for products and never accounts for operating, packaging, shipping or storing costs.

The seven percent increase equals $138,080,000 more than 2015, bringing the 2016 production value to $2,063,214,000. In 2015, the gross income was $1,925,134,000.

Beef cattle ranked the number one commodity reporting a gross value of $400,614,000, down 10 percent from 2015. The report said the decrease was due to a four percent decrease in head count and an 11 percent decrease in market prices. Alfalfa ranked number two, dropping 63 percent down from cattle production numbers, and grossing almost $149 million. Cattle and alfalfa continued in one and two positions in commodity values. Cattle has been on top since 1957.

As for the rest of the top ten rankings, leaf lettuce jumped from fifth place to third, onions dropped to fourth, broccoli moved up one place to fifth, and head lettuce dropped from fourth to sixth. Spinach made the most dramatic climb from 14 to seventh, and the report credited the leap to higher prices in 2016 and more planted acres. Rounding out the top ten commodities were alfalfa seed, romaine lettuce and carrots.

The county reported a total of 472,593 farmable acres for the Imperial Valley in 2016, however, due to multiple cropping, 542,063 total acres were harvested.

Farmers planted more acres to alfalfa, baled more units than in 2015, and earned less gross value. Wheat took the greatest loss, dropping from 64,447 acres in 2015 to 33,685, and a loss of per unit value.

Dates topped the list for the fruits and nuts produced in the Valley, grossing over $19 million, down from $24 million in 2015, according to the agricultural report.

Alfalfa seed production replaced wheat on many farms with 10,000 more acres planted for seed than in 2015, jumping from over $66 million to almost $85 million in gross value in 2016.

In 2015, out of the 58 counties in California, agriculture pushed Imperial Valley to the eleventh place in overall gross production. According to the 2015-16 Ag Statistics by CDFA, Imperial County was the sole producer of sugar beets, the number one producer of alfalfa hay, onion, wheat, corn, alfalfa seed, and Sudan grass hay. The Valley is among the top five producers of cattle, lettuce, broccoli, celery, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, potatoes, cantaloupes, salad greens, cabbage, watermelon, grapefruit, sheep, honeydew melon and dates.

For exports, most of the Valley’s agricultural products ship to Japan, with Mexico close behind. Forty percent of the hay and straw grown here is exported overseas.

Finally, the organic market continues to grow. In 2012, the county recorded almost 12,000 acres grown organically by 26 farmers with a market gross value of over $39 million. In 2016, 48 growers used 33,000 acres with a gross value of $242,404,000.