OROVILLE — The annual Butte County Crop Report for 2020 was released Tuesday and showed an overall drop in gross value to the tune of almost $63 million when compared to the 2019 report.
Agricultural Commissioner Louie Mendoza said the crop value was down around nine percent compared to 2019 with some values, such as walnuts, decreasing and others rising.
“The largest decrease was in walnut values due to a decrease in bearing acreage, yields and price per ton that resulted in a decrease of $86 million from the previous year,” Mendoza said. “The rice industry saw a slight increase in value per ton, which resulted in a $13 million increase from the previous year. Increased yields for almonds resulted in an increase of $6.7 million. Additionally, we did see an increase of $4 million for our prune industry in 2020.”
Despite the losses, Mendoza said agriculture remained the top industry in Butte County.
“About one in five jobs in our area is attributed to agriculture,” Mendoza said.
The top five most valuable Butte County crops were rice at $179 million, almonds at $174.4 million, walnuts at $128 million, prunes at $28.78 million and nursery stock at $16.8 million.
While products such as fruit and nut crops, livestock and vegetables saw drops in value, many products such as apiary products, field crops, organic crops and nursery stock were the highest they’ve been in five years, according to the crop report’s summary.
Professor and Program Coordinator Eric Houk of the Chico State College of Agriculture, who has produced economic impact reports for the university based on agricultural report numbers, said the loss in value likely isn’t due to the drought.
“The 2020 crop year was not actually impacted much by the drought since it didn’t really start becoming severe until the end of that year,” Houk said. “In this case, we need to look a little more closely at the top three commodities in Butte County (rice, almonds and walnuts) and how the highest valued crop in 2020 was rice while the highest valued crop in 2019 was walnuts.”
In the decrease of walnut value, there was a slight drop in acreage and crop yield as shown in the report, however, Houk said the economic value in walnuts saw a major drop.
“Upon closer review, we can see that there was a slight decrease in walnut acreage and a reduction in walnut yields, but the biggest impact was clearly a result of reduced walnut prices,” Houk said. “Walnut prices fell by more than 25 percent from 2019 to 2020 and this resulted in a significant reduction in the total value of walnuts produced in Butte County. It is the reduction in walnut prices that explains the overall reduction in agricultural output that was documented by the Butte County 2020 Crop and Livestock report.”
Houk said prices can be a risk factor for farmers regardless of crop growing practices.
“Unfortunately, this is a good example of the price volatility and uncertainty that our farmers and ranchers are often faced with,” Houk said. “Even if they do everything correctly in terms of the production practices, they don’t have control over prices that are being determined in global markets. However, our farmers and ranchers are resilient and have learned to adapt to changing conditions and we are lucky to have agriculture provide such a strong base for our regional economy.”
Overall, livestock saw a small decrease in value from 2019.
In 2020 the product totaled about $13.2 million, a drop from the previous year which came out to just under $13.9 million.
Cattle and calves, of which there were 14,100 in 2020, brought in more than $11 million and made up the bulk of the value for livestock in the most recent reported year.
Sheep brought in a more modest amount of $340,480 with 1,400 animals.
All other livestock was filed under miscellaneous which brought in $1.8 million.
Livestock products such as milk, market and manufacturing brought in $1,190,899 which was an increase from 2019’s $1,082,635.
Bees buzzed in with a total of $18.4 million in both pollination and apiary products. This was more than a $2 million increase from 2019.
An entire section of the 2020 crop report is dedicated to explaining the ins and outs of warding off pests that could harm or destroy crops.
The report said much of the work done to ward off pests is to prevent the spread before it gets out of hand.
“The Pest Exclusion, Detection, Management, and Eradication programs serve to protect the County from an infestation of introduced pests,” the report reads. “Through monitoring and quick response to small infestations, damaging pest populations can be controlled before they require a large-scale response.”
In total, more than 1,000 traps were set up around the county to ward off fruit flies, Japanese beetles, Gypsey moths, glassy-winged sharpshooters, Asian citrus psyllid, European grapevine moths and European corn borers.
Along with setting traps for insects, roughly 5,956 shipments were checked for exotic pests. From these inspections, two notices of rejection were issued due to the risk of the glassy-winged sharpshooter and sudden oak death.
Weeds were fought with various herbicides and other biocontrols throughout Butte County farming sites.
Weights and Measures
At the end of the report came Weights and Measures with a report on gas station skimmers.
“A skimmer is a small device illegally installed on a credit card reading system in order to secretly capture credit card information from an unsuspecting buyer,” the report said. “Sadly, this unique device has been found throughout California gas stations and inside of gas pumps, ATMs and even convenience store checkout counters. If undiscovered, skimmers will continue to steal information from each cardholder and ultimately be used to make fraudulent charges or sold to another criminal.”
Five skimmers were found by weights and measures throughout Butte County in the department’s search which were delivered to law enforcement agencies.
The report added that most gas stations have begun putting security labels or strips across seams and potential access points at pump card readers. If these stickers are broken, the machine likely has been tampered with.
“Overall, if something looks out of the ordinary, avoid paying at the pump, let the gas station attendant know and either pay inside or go to another gas station,” the report said. “And always, monitor your checking and credit card accounts online at least weekly and immediately report any suspicious activity to your bank or credit card issuer.”