San Mateo County sees slight increase in crop production despite drought 

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In San Mateo County, agricultural output has managed to increase slightly despite the ongoing drought and previous recession, largely thanks to the prosperity of some vegetables and legumes.

According to the county’s recently released 2013 Agricultural Crop Report, overall production increased 2.2 percent in San Mateo County last year for a total gross value of approximately $143.1 million. Fava beans and Brussels sprouts were the year’s big crop performers, offsetting losses in grains, livestock, flowers, plants and nursery stock, the county’s dominant cash crops for decades.

“It was just a great year for fava beans. Additional acreage was planted and they got a great yield,” said San Mateo County Agricultural Commissioner Fred Crowder. “Beans like favas and limas, they are getting more and more recognition in restaurants. They’re more popular with the public.”

Fava production roughly tripled in the region, grossing about $2.1 million compared with $653,000 in 2012.

In addition, rising unit prices for Brussels sprouts added value to an already bountiful harvest, the report found. Production increased 38 percent and the crop accounted for nearly 9 percent of the county’s total agricultural output.

The floral and nursery industries stumbled last year, however, representing only 77 percent of total output, while they typically account for 80 percent. Several growers had to shutter their operations due to the reduction.

“Our industry is not recovering from the recession,” Crowder explained of the floral and nursery results. “Stores have been waiting for increases in orders and new accounts but they’re not coming in.”

“As floral sales increase, [consumers] are not getting them from the United States, they’re getting them from South America. They’re ordering them on the Internet; they’re calling teleflorists,” added Crowder.

The statewide drought conditions have taken a toll on field crops such as dried beans, hay and grains, which tend to be dry-farmed without irrigation. Livestock, which rely on rain-fed grasses, were also hard-hit and some ranchers trimmed the size of their herds.

According to Crowder, growers have adapted to the challenges by reducing acreage, planting earlier in the season to beat summer heat and capitalize on soil moisture, and shedding irrigation lines by using additional labor to rotate single pipes through fields.

Farmers markets throughout the county continued to be a boon to producers hoping to increase profit margins by selling directly to consumers. But the proliferation of more, smaller markets has meant that farmers spend more time traveling with lower sales at each stop, Crowder noted.

“We’re seeing more and more farmers markets but we’re not seeing more and more producers certified to sell,” said Crowder. “The markets themselves aren’t as vibrant… producers have to go to five or six markets to make as much as they used to in two or three.”

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S. Parker Yesko

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