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Lake County's crop value surges past $100 million, setting new record

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A surge in the value of Lake County’s wine grape and pear crops helped drive the county’s farm bounty to a record $101 million last year, up more than 9 percent from 2014.

“It’s the first time ever over $100 million,” said Lake County Agricultural Commissioner Steve Hajik.

The gross value of the county’s grape crop was $63 million, a 7 percent increase over 2014, while the gross value of pears was $26 million, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, Hajik said.

For the first time in years, most pear growers have contracts with canneries, he said.

“There’s just enough pears to get good prices,” he said. “Pears are up for everybody.”

Pear tonnage increased by 9,002 tons and the price per ton increased by 2 percent. Bartlett pear prices — at $980 a ton for fresh pears and $414 for cannery quality — were the highest on record, Hajik said.

Grape prices — at $1,634 per ton overall — also reached an all-time high, Hajik said. He citied it as an indicator of growing interest in Lake County grapes, particularly ones used to make red wines. Cabernet sauvignon grapes sold for about $2,157 per ton, according to the crop report.

Production of wine grapes rose by 100 tons to 38,786, while the number of acres in grape production increased by 673 acres to 9,455.

Walnuts, which just a few years ago were enjoying a renaissance, did not fare as well last year. Their gross value decreased 25 percent to $5.4 million, according to the report. The price per ton decreased by 19 percent, Hajik said.

Organic walnuts were selling for significantly more than conventionally grown walnuts for the first time in a while, he said. Organic walnuts sold for about $3 a pound, compared with 65 cents per pound for conventionally grown walnuts.

“It is leading more people to want their orchards to be organic,” he said, noting that ample opportunities exist for a rebound in walnut farming.

Lake County has 1,634 acres of organic walnuts under cultivation, one of the largest plantings of its kind in the state, Hajik said. About 500 acres of abandoned walnut orchards exist in the county.

“There are a lot of abandoned orchards in the county that you could, with some extra loving care, get into production again,” he said.

Nursery values increased 36 percent last year and the value of livestock and poultry products rose 23 percent while livestock production was down 4 percent, primarily due to cutbacks linked to the drought, according to the report.

Timber suffered the biggest loss in production, dropping by 1,250 percent, likely a result of lower prices linked to increased timber supply from millions of drought-weakened trees killed by pests across the nation.

“There’s a glut on the market,” Hajik said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda. anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@MendoReporter.

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