Marin agriculture saw slight increase in value in last year

07/21/2021

Marin’s annual crop and livestock report showed the county’s agricultural producers largely weathered the pandemic and drought, but the next few years could paint a different picture. The gross value of agricultural production last year went up by about 4 percent from the previous year, reaching almost $102 million. It was the first time the total value of Marin’s agricultural products surpassed $100 million since 2015, the year it reached a record high of over $111 million. Dry conditions were largely responsible for the downturn that took place in between, and the county is now in the throes of another severe drought, making the future uncertain. “Our producers are used to change and having to adapt and innovate on the go, and 2020 tested their resilience, their resolve and their adaptability,” agricultural commissioner Stefan Parnay told the Board of Supervisors last week. Mr. Parnay said the most significant effects of the severe drought will likely not appear in the crop report for another year or two. Cattle value went up by 9 percent to about $1,100 a head, but this increase is “very misleading,” he said. Ranchers are reducing the sizes of their herds this year as drought conditions worsen and the practice of trucking feed and water becomes unsustainable. Older cattle are going to slaughter and younger cattle are flooding the market, lowering prices and making it difficult for ranchers to recuperate their costs. “They’re not getting nearly what they would have gotten a year ago,” he said. The situation will be especially dire by 2022, he said, unless the price per head resurges, an unlikely prospect. “Ranchers deal with changes and situations that arise on a daily basis, but drought is a much bigger issue,” Mr. Parnay said. Organic milk, the county’s biggest agricultural product, saw an 11 percent increase in value, up to more than $36 million in total. But herd reductions will also make a dent in dairy values in the coming years, and Mr. Parnay suggested the closure of the historic McClure Dairy, one of six in the Point Reyes National Seashore, would also have an impact. The value of conventional milk declined by a small margin, but it accounts for just a 10th of the county’s dairy production.  A few products sank considerably in value last year. Aquaculture, synonymous with West Marin’s oyster business, lost almost half its value in 2020, with the pandemic to blame. Hog Island Oyster Company and Tomales Bay Oyster Company, the county’s two main oyster producers, saw business tank when restaurants closed during last year’s lockdowns. By next year’s report, Mr. Parnay said, “aquaculture should be back up where it was.” Marin’s comparatively small wine industry also struggled after the Woodward Fire last August, as the handful of wine growers near the seashore were forced to leave grapes that had been damaged by smoke hanging on the vine. Point Reyes Vineyards owner Steve Doughty said he lost 100 percent of his crop after the fire. Wine grape values dropped by 31 percent. “A year from now, a lot more will be known and understood about the current drought’s impact on producers,” Mr. Parnay told the supervisors. “I’m more concerned about the long-term impacts and viability of our livestock and crop industries. A lot of work will be done over the coming months and years to build drought resiliency into our local agricultural production systems.”