Strawberries held onto their rank as Ventura County’s top crop last year, while newcomer hemp fell in value, the county’s annual crop and livestock report shows.
The estimated gross value for hemp was around $ 6 million in 2020, down 83% from $ 35.5 million in 2019. The number of hectares harvested also fell by 83%, from 3,470 to 584.
Ventura County’s Agriculture Commissioner Ed Williams said overproduction and land use changes caused the downturn. Farmers cut back after Ventura County’s board of directors banned planting within half a mile of schools, residential areas and daycare centers in early 2020, Williams said.
“Few have tried to keep growing,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to 2019 levels.”
The board eased the setbacks to a quarter of a mile in December, but that was too late to reflect results in the 2020 Crop & Livestock Report released by Williams’ office late last month.
Oxnard breeder Tony de Veyra sees the economy as the biggest contributing factor to the hemp downturn.
Farmers overall produced a lot of hemp for use in CBD products in 2019, he said, and it is still pending processing. Some planted large amounts of acres without enough buyers or options for processing, he said.
“There is certainly still a lot of material in warehouses,” he said. “It is unlikely that many things that have been lying around since 2019 will ever be processed.”
Local growers saw hemp as a potential boon to the ailing agribusiness in 2019 after Congress legalized commercial production. Hemp can be sold for a number of uses, but the industry is in its early stages in the US. Selling expensive CBD oil was expected to pay off immediately.
Williams had expected sales to hit at least $ 100 million in 2019 if no one lost a crop, which would place hemp in the top half of the county’s top 10 crops in terms of value. Officials reported that only $ 35 million had kicked in, but it was still enough to push Kohl into 10th place. The humble green vegetable reclaimed the place last year when the hemp numbers plummeted.
Williams expects the hemp market to stabilize somewhat in the coming years, even if there is no revival. He said hemp will remain valuable because it requires little water and can be alternated with other crops to clean the soil and keep the vegetable farms productive in the off-season.
Hemp prices plummeted
Growers expected to sell hemp for health-related cannabidiol or CBD oil products, but market prices have deteriorated in recent years. Hemp flowers produced for CBD oil hit $ 30 a pound in the summer of 2019 and then fell to $ 18-20 a pound by the end of the year, said breeder Vanessa Ramirez. Last summer, producers sold their 2019 crop for $ 1 a pound, she said.
Ramirez adapted to the downturn by growing smokable hemp in a greenhouse on Etting Road near Oxnard. She said the plant could be grown in greenhouses year round and there had been no complaints about the smell, as was the case with hemp grown outdoors in fields.
Hemp must have negligible intoxicating properties to be sold in California, but is marketed as a relaxing smoke.
Ramirez and her husband Mario Chavez took the opportunity to grow smokable hemp after he lost his job as director of events and meetings at a Santa Barbara hotel and the market for hemp grown for CBD oil turned sour.
She fears California lawmakers may ban the sale of smokable hemp, but said she hopes to stick with the deal. Although cannabis is more lucrative, she thinks hemp is a healthier product.
“I will definitely try to stick with hemp,” she said.
The 28-page crop report, released late last month, shows the estimated gross value of the crop and livestock in Ventura County, not the profit farmers make after expenses including labor, water and taxes. It also does not show the multiplier effect on the economy, said Williams.
To the other highlights:
Strawberries recovered. Estimated gross values decreased 24% in 2019, followed by a 13% increase last year when they hit $ 575 million. Last year’s total sweet fruit value equals nearly 30% of the nearly $ 2 billion value of crops and livestock grown in the county, the report shows.
Lemons took second place at $ 216 million, 2% more than last year, followed by nurseries at $ 193 million, 3% more. Officials suspect kindergartens were doing fine because people were stuck at home and cleaning up their gardens during the pandemic.
Avocados ranked fourth at nearly $ 180 million, up 54%, while raspberries dropped to fifth as values plummeted 30% to about $ 142 million. Celery fell to sixth place and just under $ 127 million after finishing second amid the celery juice craze last year.
Tomatoes stayed in seventh place, followed by peppers, blueberries, and cabbage, all valued at less than $ 55 million apiece. Officials noted that blueberries first appeared in the top 10 list, while cut flowers fell for the first time in 37 years as the pandemic restricted flower sales for weddings and parties.
Williams said the pandemic had both winners and losers, noting that the gross value of fruits increased while vegetables decreased. Still, the estimated gross value of the agribusiness overall remained relatively constant, falling two-tenths from the previous year to nearly $ 1.99 billion.
Growers are doing well, but the industry is struggling, Williams said.
“This is the third year in a row that we’ve been going down a little and costs going up a little,” he said.
The report can be viewed online at https://cdn.ventura.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/2020-Crop-Report.pdf. Printed copies are due to appear in September.
Kathleen Wilson is responsible for the government of Ventura County, including the county health system, politics, and social services. You can reach her at email@example.com or 805-437-0271.