Thanks in part to the winter’s heavy rains, the gross value of Marin’s agricultural crops and products in 2018 jumped by $6.9 million, or 8 percent, from the previous year. Beef was largely responsible for the rise, although organic milk remains the county’s top commodity.
Last week, Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen presented the annual agricultural crop and livestock report to the Board of Supervisors. The report shows that the value of the cattle, poultry, grapes and silage markets rose significantly from 2017. At the same time, prices for organic milk—the leading commodity in Marin—dropped for the fourth year in a row, reflecting a nationwide glut in production.
In Marin, livestock accounted for 42 percent of agricultural production in 2018. Livestock products accounted for an additional 33 percent; field crops accounted for 14 percent; fruit, vegetable and nursery crops accounted for 6 percent; and aquaculture accounted for 5 percent of the total value of more than $94,000,000.
Rain—and the lack of it—has led to huge fluctuations in the cattle market in Marin in recent years. Cattle saw a 53 percent decrease in value in 2016, when the price per head dropped from $1,596 to $724. Yet previous prices had reached a historic high, reflecting a scarcity caused by drought.
Now, the market appears to be rebounding. Mr. Carlsen told the Light that given significantly better pasture conditions, the quality of the animals in Marin has improved: the price for one head of cattle last year was $965, versus $749 in 2017. Just 300 more animals were sold in 2018 than in 2017, but the higher price brought in an additional $3.4 million, a 32 percent jump that accounted for half of Marin’s overall increased agricultural value in 2018.
It was also a good year for silage, with a 69 percent increase in value. Pasture was up 6 percent, and hay down 15 percent. Poultry rose 30 percent and aquaculture fell 5 percent.
Although Marin’s wine grape production is relatively low compared to neighboring Sonoma County, the value rose by 37 percent. It was a good year for a crop that is always fickle, Mr. Carlsen said: the grapes were big.
The value of fruits and vegetables rose 3 percent and nursery products rose 22 percent. Thirty five operations in Marin County were certified organic in 2018, including 12 dairies.
Despite continued price drops, milk continues to be extremely profitable in Marin. In 2018, organic milk yielded $28 million and conventional milk $3 million, though values were down from last year 8 percent and 17 percent, respectively. It’s the fourth year that organic milk prices have fallen since the organic milk market took off in the last decade—an outcome of increased production not only in Marin, but nationwide.
Prices may be leveling out, however. Measured in units of 100 pounds, organic milk sold for $30 in 2017, accounting for a 22 percent drop from 2016. But this year, the price per unit was $27.39, just an 8 percent drop. Mr. Carlsen said he expects the organic milk market to stabilize, especially as producers and processors in Marin get wiser about how to account for fluctuating prices.
The commissioner is generally optimistic about the state of agriculture and its contributions to the county.
“Our producers are always trying to make innovations, are committed to best management practices, and are mindful of the environment,” he said. “We have an excellent agricultural community and we should be celebrating that they are all able to produce, to create such a high-quality food source.”