Sonoma County crop report for 2022 shows losses due to drought
Showing the stark difference in weather swings from one year to another, most Sonoma County crops were plagued with drought effects in 2022 that led to a loss for the year overall.
“We were down, due to drought. And feed hay was way too expensive,” Santa Rosa’s Beretta Dairy owner Doug Beretta said.
Some North Bay dairy farmers drove as far as Idaho to get hay to feed their cows. Others took more drastic measures, selling cows or closing down operations.
The just-released 2022 Sonoma County Crop Report shows an almost 2% loss in the total dollar value of crops from the previous year. Dwindling water supplies affected a variety of agriculture segments from dairy farms like Beretta’s to commercial fishing.
Total crop value came in at $796 million, down 1.9%, according to the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, which also manages the Weights and Measures Department.
Dairy amounted to $67.3 million in value for 2022, which was almost cut in half compared to the previous year. Milk values — down for both organic and conventional dairies — are retrieved by the state and reported by weight (cwt), meaning hundred pounds instead of volume in gallons.
Milk production was also slashed in half — down 46% — despite double-digit increases in organic and conventional milk value per unit, according to the 2022 crop report.
Meanwhile, the value of livestock, including cattle, sheep and hogs, declined 29% to $34.8 million in contrast to 2021’s haul.
“We got less milk per cow,” said Josh Perucchi, a third-generation dairyman at Perucchi Dairy Farm in Bodega. “Now we have a lot of hay, but not at a good quality because we got so much rain. We have such extremes — either too much rain or not enough.”
Perucchi was referring to the past winter that changed everything. In particular, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Nov. 2 that California — once blanketed with drought conditions — is no longer in a drought.
From land to sea
Commercial harvesting of fish became a tough business in 2022 as well, with the value of fish landings totaling $8.5 million, about a quarter less of what it was the prior year. The Dungeness crab harvest, which has experienced multiple years of shorter seasons, was down, along with sablefish, lingcod and tuna. Halibut values dropped, with $2,623 reeled in, a ninth of 2021’s haul. The value of chinook salmon had also dropped.
“California has been in drought. That’s why we’re low in the salmon catches, and crabbing was delayed,” said Sal Svedise, who manages Santa Rosa Seafood market.
The one star of the ocean turned out to be rockfish, up dramatically to $163,104 in value brought in last year.
“Rockfish is always readily available, even if it doesn’t fetch as much (money),” Svedise said.
To that, longtime Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg called the shift in catching focus a “natural occurrence.”
“Whenever we see a bad crab year, we see more shifts to other resources. Fishermen have to make money (with other fish),” he said.
Like commercial fishers, winegrape growers know all too well how to adapt in a changing climate.
The 2022 winegrape growing season witnessed harvesters adapting to the challenges associated with yet another year of drought. The 2022 crop was lighter due to reduced water supplies and spring frosts. Plus, heat waves, late season rain and a record early start to the harvest represented other elements growers were forced to balance.
With that, tonnage dipped 7.3% from 2021 to the following year’s 190,864 tons brought in for Sonoma County’s primary crop. But the value of $547.7 million for both whites and reds somewhat offset the drop in production, a difference of around $7 million (1.25%) from the previous year.
As individual varietals go, chardonnay was lower in value for 2022, but sauvignon blanc rose in value for the year by $4 million to $27.8 million due to growers “planting more acres” of the grape, Sonoma County Winegrowers Association CEO and President Karissa Kruse pointed out. The price per ton rose to almost $2,000 for the latter.
For reds, pinot noir was down in value, but cabernet sauvignon was up year over year by $12 million to $123.8 million. Cab’s price per ton went up about $200 to $2970.68.
Overall, the wine industry held its own, despite adverse weather conditions and coming out of a pandemic.
“It was a lighter than average crop because of the impacts of drought, with lighter crop yields, but we were back to pre-COVID pricing, and that’s a good sign,” Sonoma County Winegrowers Association CEO and President Karissa Kruse said.
In its first year of reporting, the Sonoma County cannabis crop was valued at $40.3 million. That figure was dominated by indoor cultivation, adding up to $38.4 million.
2022 star performers for growth
Apples experienced a bump in value last year ($3.2 million) from 2021, even with less tonnage due to “freezing temperatures during the bloom and continued drought stress,” Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner Andrew Smith said.
The star apple of Sonoma County that has its own festival named after it fetched more year over year in price per ton by 49%. Gravensteins retrieved $642 per ton, compared to $431 in 2021. Its value surpassed $1.6 million.
The value of field crops, characterized as hay, oats, straw, silage and pasture land, had more than doubled in 2022 to $28.6 million.
The biggest increase was seen in nursery products, with a 14.3% increase in value from 2021 to the following year to $68.9 million.
Monte Bellaria’s lavender crops in Sebastopol, used for essential oils, saw “a good year” in 2022, the Sebastopol farm owner and founder Bill MacElroy noted.
Unlike this year, which MacElroy said “was a disaster (because) it’s so wet and so cold,” the 2022 crop flourished.
“Lavender likes it dry and likes it hot,” he said.
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. She can be reached at 530-545-8662 or firstname.lastname@example.org