The king crop: Report shows Delta farms’ vital role in county’s $507 million agricultural economy

Grape growers, pear farmers kept Sacramento region’s production value climbing through drought

This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the October 5, 2017, issue.

If there was any doubt about the role farms on Sacramento County’s side of the north Delta play in the region’s economic health, it was removed at the end of September. According to the county‘s Crop and Livestock report, Delta farms helped keep the county’s $507 million ag economy trending upward, even during the drought.

Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner Juli Jensen shared the findings of the annual review with the Board of Supervisors on September 26. She said the $507 million figure doesn’t count the financial benefits county farms bring via processing plants, labor jobs and transportation services.

Sacramento County’s ability to reach the highest agricultural production value it’s ever had in 2016 came as a surprise to some observers. That’s because the amount of crops grown in the county was actually down from the previous year, due to ongoing challenges from the drought. Jensen said there was a clear reason the Sacramento farm industry still ended up ahead.

“Wine grapes continue to rule as king of Sacramento County,” she said. “Why was our [economic total] up? Wine grapes: our top crop’s value increased significantly. There were increases in acreage, yield and price.”

A significant number of county vineyards are planted on the east bank of the Sacramento River between the towns of Freeport and Hood. The north Delta’s other major crop, pears also helped drive the welcomed number. Jensen’s report showed that pear values increased by 3 percent in 2016.

Bill Bird, executive director of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau, acknowledged there’s a strength in the types of crops grown in the Delta. “The fact that the price for wine grapes has gone up has obviously helped the bottom line when it comes to our agriculture,” Bird said during the meeting.

In terms of threats to Sacramento County’s farming outlook, Jensen told the supervisors one of the main ones continues to be Gov. Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix project.

“It seems to be on a downward spiral right now with the decision by the largest irrigation district in the state to not participate,” Jensen said. She added that, as some news analysts have pointed out, the financing for the tunnels has been so fluid that the development might not be a death blow. “We’ll continue to be vigilant,” she said.