The value of agricultural production in Marin County shrunk by 5 percent in 2021, according to Scott Wise, the county’s agricultural commissioner.
What’s to blame for the decline? Mostly drought and farmers who have chosen to fallow more of their land, the county said. “Fallowing” is plowing and harrowing a parcel of land but not sowing seeds in it, so as to give it time to restore fertility. This is sometimes known as crop rotation.
Wise and Inspector Allison Klein presented their findings to the county’s Board of Supervisors this month in a study entitled, “2021 Marin County Crop & Livestock Report.”
In it they outlined not only the decrease in production but also a decrease in production value for local products. According to the report, 2021 had an estimated gross total production value of $96,656,000, down from $101,840,000 in 2020. The report noted that this downward dip “wiped out” a 4 percent gain in value between 2019 and 2020.
According to the county, Marin has eclipsed the $100 million mark only three times in history, with a record of $111,061,000 in 2015.
Part of the decline in sales can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county said. Farmers and ranchers have had to find new markets to sell their products and have also had to handle “complicated issues with human resources” at their facilities.
But the ongoing drought crisis facing the entire state hasn’t helped either.
“We are now seeing the data that shows the long-term impacts this drought is having on our agricultural industry, such as significant reductions in livestock, exorbitant feed costs and fallowing of land,” Wise told the board.
Wise said that in 2021, Marin’s share of the drought reached “critical” levels. Ponds and wells ran dry and many farmers and ranchers resorted to hauling water into their operations.
“Still, there’s only so much water an operation can afford to haul,” said Wise. “Many growers had to fallow fields and many ranchers were forced to sell off animals.”
According to the county, 2021 brought record-low rainfall and a second consecutive dry winter.
Wise said the report did have some good news: Aquaculture in West Marin raised the total gross value of oysters, mussels and clams by 119 percent, from $3.75 million to $8.2 million. The rapid jump is a bit deceiving, however, as the county attributes the sharp rise in demand to residents hungry for good food after the pandemic lockdowns and restaurant closures.
The report also has concerning numbers regarding the value of field crops. Hay was down 49 percent, silage (animal feed) was down 43 percent, and harvested pasture was down by 33 percent. The total value of field crops fell from $14 million to just over $9 million, the county said.
Fruits and vegetables also plummeted, declining by 34 percent with nursery products down 25 percent.
Livestock and dairy products also slipped in value, with cattle down 13 percent and organic milk by 8 percent. Organic milk is the county’s leading agricultural commodity, according to the report, accounting for 35 percent of 2021’s gross value.
The 2021 report will be sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to be included in statewide reports, the county said.