Marin, Napa crop reports show strength of organic farming, impact of wildfires
Longtime Marin County organic rancher Albert Straus could add climate predictor to his resume, given the pioneer’s response to using sustainable farming practices in overcoming unprecedented challenges for the industry.
Despite these challenges like historic drought and the pandemic, the 2020 Marin County crop report released July 13 shows a double-digit increase of 11% in year-over-year organic milk production.
“Farmers have learned a lot and tried to adapt. There’s a tremendous amount of work going on in respect to drought, with many setting themselves up for next year,” Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay told the Business Journal. “A carbon farming plan pencils out. Many of them are using compost. A significant amount of money is being spent on keeping (farms and ranches) alive.”
The value of organic milk production came in last year as $36.5 million.
The first 100% organic creamery in the United States, Straus Family Creamery has bought into organic dairy farming since 1993.
“I’m not surprised we did OK, despite the pandemic and the huge volatility with the pandemic. I know it’s not over, but I think we’ve come a long way,” Straus told the Business Journal. “I think this opportunity (of using organic farming methods) is a reflection of where we’re going. I’m optimistic about the future.”
Straus, whose father started the creamery in 1941, has made it his life’s mission to run a farming operation — now with 275 cows roaming on 500 acres — with a zero-waste goal. He’s on track for the creamery to go all carbon neutral in 2023.
From the use of electric vehicles and glass bottles to the avoidance of pesticides and herbicides, sustainable farming was long considered a type of industry that would dent the bottom line. Now, farmers have started to catch on that these environmentally-conscious practices such as carbon sequestering in the soil help keep their operations going in the face of unprecedented drought in California.
Marin County could be ahead of its time. About 85% of its dairy farms — 23 — have gone organic.
Meanwhile, conventional milk farming showed a 2% decrease in its value of $2.2 million.
Milk production, divided between organic and conventional, is but one component of the crop report. In total, the report showed an overall 4% increase in gross total production value for all crops adding up to $101.8 million.
The crops report also showed a double-digit rise in the value of sheep, with a 22% rise in the livestock’s value last year set at $2.6 million on 13,209 counted. Cattle and poultry were also up — 9- and 5%, respectively.
Aquaculture, which includes oysters, mussels and clams, took a hit. This type of water harvesting saw its business almost cut in half, down to $3.7 million in value.
Dominating the Marin County farming landscape, milk, poultry and livestock accounted for 72% of the total gross value, or $73.8 million, raked in last year. The 2020 gain represents the third consecutive year these three products led the way in earnings.
Marin County isn’t out of the woods. Parnay predicted ranchers would have more problems with persistent drought in the coming years. The ranches that survive may do so because of their investments, he added.
In Marin County’s seesaw agricultural climate depending on the product grown, the $4 million value of fruits and vegetables went up last year by 11%. But wine grapes took a substantial loss, down 31% to $938,000.
Wine grape production in Marin County was pummeled by smoke damage as the Woodward Fire that erupted last August on the Point Reyes National Seashore left the fruit that anchors a multi-billion industry essentially hanging on the vine. Marin County’s haul dropped by 146 tons in one year.
Fires cut deeply into wine grape crop value
Napa County’s report, released May 18, documented a 51% drop in value of fruits and nuts year over year. Nearly all of the $461.6 million encompasses wine grapes at $461.3 million.
Agricultural production for the entire county was $465.3 million, when adding vegetable, field, floral and nursery crops as well as livestock products.
The 2020 crops demise points to mostly smoke damage to the wine grapes caused by the LNU Lightning complex and Glass wildfires, in addition to the overall economic impact brought on by the global pandemic, Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Tracy Cleveland cited.
“The biggest portion of the drop was (attributable to) the wildfires and smoke taint,” she told the Business Journal. “We had a lot of things working against us. I think everyone’s concerned.”
Those concerns have sent the farmers and ranchers that will survive the crunch scrambling to overcome the challenges.
“A lot of growers are engaging in a lot of different farming practices. We know in the long run there’s going to be an impact, we just don’t know to what extent how much impact there will be,” she said.
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, biotech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or email@example.com