Grapes no longer king in Kern — for now at least, according to latest crop report

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It used to be that Southern Valley agriculture meant grapes, cotton and then everything else. Not anymore. At least not this year. The latest Kern County crop report is out, and there’s been a change at the top. A few changes, actually.

And those changes are as good a reflection of evolving ag economics and consumer habits as you’ll find. The new number one crop in Kern County is almonds.

That shouldn’t should be a surprise to anyone who has driven down a rural road — almost any rural road — outside of Bakersfield in the last 10 years. It may still feel a little jarring, though, given the long dominance of grapes in Kern County and throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

But there’s no arguing with the 2019 Kern County crop report, released just this week.

Almonds jumped to number 1 with a $1.6 billion crop value, followed by grapes, which lost 5 percent of its acreage from last year and came in at number two with $1.4 billion.
The big movers up the chart? Pomegranates, valued at $122 million and jumping from number 14 to number 9, and industrial hemp, valued at $81 million and jumping from token acreage to number 14 — with a bullet.

Ollie Danner, who markets hemp, says the versatile product has only one direction to go — up.

“I think it may be a while, a while like three to five years, before it breaks into the top five, but it’s heading in that direction,” he said.

Michael Ming of Alliance Ag Services says it was a good year for almonds but that doesn’t mean the current pecking order is permanent.

“If I was a betting man I’d say table grapes and grapes in general will be back at number one next year,” Ming said.

But consumer tastes and land values aren’t the only thing driving these crop rankings. The biggie is water, and water availability is closely tied to climate change. And as the climate changes, look for Kern’s top-crop report to change with it.

Out of the top 20 completely — cotton. The balance of commodity prices and land values just don’t pencil out for it anymore. That’s perhaps the starkest reminder that times change in the ag world, too.

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