Yuba, Sutter counties ag landscape shifts | TheUnion.com

Yuba, Sutter counties ag landscape shifts

Jake Abbott
Special to The Union

Sutter County supervisor and lifelong farmer Mat Conant has witnessed the area’s changing agricultural landscape throughout the years, as his family has farmed local lands for generations.

The area’s leading crops continue to be walnuts, rice, prunes and peaches. However, as proven in the past, things can change.

“We have no dairies, but that industry used to be huge in the ’40s and ’50s,” Conant said. “The state is still the number one dairy producer in the nation, but I think the smaller operations cut back because of all the huge multi-billion-dollar dairy operations. That’s just the way things work, you either grow or you die.”

In Yuba County, the kiwi crop has also experienced its ups and down. Yuba County Ag Commissioner Stephen Scheer said the crop went through a boom/bust period in the late 1970s and 1980s because a lot of acreage was planted and the market became saturated, resulting in prices dropping.

Across the river, Sutter County Ag Commissioner Lisa Herbert said crops like olives, pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis and honeydews have all experienced significant acreage changes over the years.

“Honeydew acreage decreased – 1999 was 5,000 acres vs. 2017 was 811 acres – when Danna & Danna closed their doors after 40 years of packing on Bridge Street,” Herbert said.

Over the last 10 years, Yuba County has seen increases in walnut (an additional 9,000 acres), kiwi (an addition of about 915 acres) and almond acreage (an addition of 1,000 acres). At the same time, peaches and prunes have been struggling, leading to some growers transitioning to other commodities when possible.

“Market forces (demand and price) and competition from other countries are the main factors,” Scheer said. “In the case of peaches, it is a crop that is very labor intensive and we are seeing ag labor shortages. Additionally, the demand for canned peaches has fallen over the years.”

In Sutter County, some of the biggest acreage increases have come in the form of nursery products and seed crops.

“I’ve seen a big increase in nursery products over the past 10 years. Could be due to the increased demand for walnuts and other tree crops statewide,” Herbert said. “… Seed crops have blossomed over the past 20 years. For instance, in 1999, there were 1,370 acres of sunflower but in 2017, we had 10,568 acres. The total seed value has doubled in 20 years.”

Changes in acreage is just a part of farming, Conant said. He said it’s always changing, from day to day, from year to year. With more and more growers looking to hemp as a possible alternative to other crops, the Yuba-Sutter area’s land will likely continue to change into the future.

And one way farmers can protect themselves from the highs and lows of different commodities is through diversification.

“We have pretty diverse farming operations here in the area, and it will probably continue to be that way well into the future,” Conant said. “When you have multiple crops, it’s harder for one bad market to negatively affect the overall economy.”

Jake Abbott is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact him at jabbott@appealdemocrat.com

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