2012 agriculture season a mixed basket | TheUnion.com

2012 agriculture season a mixed basket

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

The winter drought that began in November 2011 and lasted into March 2012 detrimentally impacted the livestock industry in Nevada County, but a precipitation-heavy spring meant fruit and vegetable growers had a productive year, agricultural officials said.

“There was a short-term drought that lasted from January into November that affected the rangeland,” said Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner Jeffrey Pylman. “Even though the drought was short, it was severe. Then the rains came and fresh-food growers had a good year.”

Tim Crough, assistant general manager at Nevada Irrigation District, said the rainfall collected in storage for the 2012 season was a little above average due to the heavy rains in March and April.

Virginia Hilsman, owner of the Double Oak Vineyards and Winery locateed on the San Juan Ridge, said she had one of the best years she’s had since planting vines in 1982.

“This was one of the most abundant harvests for us ever,” Hilsman said.

Double Oak has about 9.5 acres of vine-covered land, and it grows an assortment of grape varietals, including Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The combination of a wet spring, ideal summer temperatures and the lack of precipitation during harvest season created conditions ripe for a bumper crop, Hilsman said.

The majority of fresh food crops grown in Nevada County are sold directly to local markets, as the export industry for produce is not robust in the county, Pylman said.

However, a persistently tumultuous economy has meant a decrease in activity in the local agricultural distribution centers, like farmers markets, said Roger Ingram, county director and farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension.

“In a general sense, people are just not buying as much quantity,” Ingram said.

The extensive and deep drought that affected the majority of Midwestern America affected the poultry industry in Nevada County, as the price of chicken feed skyrocketed due to supply side shortages, Pylman said.

Locally, the winter drought also adversely affected costs for livestock producers, Ingram said.

“It was pretty bad,” he said. “At a certain point, a lot of ranchers had to make a decision either to reduce the number of livestock or pay for expensive hay.”

Ingram said the drought could have been significantly worse, but right as the temperatures warmed enough at the end of March, the rain produced enough grass growth to avoid an outright catastrophe.

Lesa Osterholm, water efficiency coordinator for NID, said she started 2012 by working with raw water customers regarding the possible implementation of austere conservation measures, which it turns out, the organization did not have to enact.

“We got a fabulous response from our customers, many of whom were voluntarily going to give up water,” she said. “But as we were talking about it, the rains came.”

Statistics will not be available for the 2012 agricultural season until next year.

AgAlert, a weekly newspaper that covers agriculture in California, said 2011 witnessed record profits for California agriculture operations.

California agriculture experienced a 15 percent increase in gross sales value of its products in 2011, the paper reported. The state’s 81,500 farms and ranches garnered a record $43.5 billion in 2011, up from the $38 billion reached during 2010.

The total value of Nevada County’s 2011 agricultural crop production was $18.1 million. The total amount represents an increase of $7.7 million from the 2010 crop value with the timber industry accounting for a large percentage of the increase, according to Nevada County’s 2011 agriculture report.

The large increases in most agricultural sectors were attributed to better data contribution from farmers and two excellent pasture years with extended rainfall on non-irrigated rangeland.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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