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Crop report shows farmers held out through hardships of 2020 

San Luis Obispo County's 2020 crop report is out, and despite all the challenges that year could muster, the data shows that the county's agricultural industry largely stood strong.

At a Board of Supervisors meeting on July 20, Agricultural Commissioner Martin Settevendemie said the overall value of the county's crops barely budged between 2019 and 2020, falling only slightly by .03 percent to a total value of more than $978 million.

click to enlarge DECLINES San Luis Obispo County’s 2020 crop report shows that wine grapes decreased in value compared to 2020. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • DECLINES San Luis Obispo County’s 2020 crop report shows that wine grapes decreased in value compared to 2020.

"Although the decrease in overall value was minimal, there were impacts that were created by the COVID pandemic," Settevendemie said at the meeting, where he presented the latest agricultural statistics. "We had the initial stay-at-home order, which impacted production. We had market declines through restaurant closures and other business closures. We had a shift in consumer buying patterns, and we had declines in crop values or crop prices during the single growing season. And like many industries, the ag industry had to really reinvent their traditional marketing strategies to accommodate such a very turbulent time."

Of course, not all kinds of farmers felt the effects of 2020 equally. While the value of SLO County's animal industry increased by 13 percent between 2019 and 2020, the value of field crops decreased by 16 percent. Settevendemie said he expects to see continuing spikes in the sales of cattle and other animals as ranchers reduce herd sizes to survive the ongoing drought.

Wine grape growers had a tough year in 2020, according to Settevendemie, with the value of wine grapes falling by 14 percent compared to 2019, weighing in at a total value of $218 million.

"And a couple of factors that influenced this were, No. 1, there was an oversupply in the market," Settevendemie said. "And also, there were some contractual issues where some buyers were reluctant to buy fruit simply because they were fearful of smoke taint from the wildfires that we experienced in 2020."

As the pandemic subsides and markets return, at least for now, to some semblance of normalcy, Settevendemie said the agricultural world is turning its attention to the drought, which he expects will have significant impacts on SLO County's crops in years to come. Settevendemie said his department will be providing outreach and information to local farmers on disaster relief programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in coming months.

At the meeting, 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold thanked Settevendemie for compiling and presenting the report.

"So interesting, and it'll look so different after this drought lifts, right?" Arnold said. "The hay prices will be up, the cattle numbers will be down. This just is kind of the rolling cycle, but it's always nice to have this statistics to look at and understand where we're going and where you've come from."

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