SLO County strawberries were worth nearly $278 million last year. What about other crops?

Despite a relentless drought, San Luis Obispo County agricultural products were worth more than $1 billion in 2022.

Strawberries were the county’s top crop with a total value of nearly $278 million, according to the 2022 annual Agricultural Statistics report.

Still, the total value of fruit and nut crops dropped by 12.5% in 2022 due to decreasing sales prices and lower production, the report said.

San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commissioner Martin Settevendemie presented the crops report to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The supervisors took special notice of Brussels sprouts, which catapulted to the top 10 crops list for the first time ever in 2022.

“I just can’t figure out who eats $25 million worth of Brussels sprouts,” Supervisor John Peschong said during Tuesday’s meeting, sparking laughter from the audience.

Strawberries grow in Grover Beach near the Okui family’s farm stand in 2017. Strawberries were San Luis Obispo Couny’s top crop in 2022, with a value of nearly $278 million.

Strawberries, wine grapes are SLO County’s top crops

According to Settevendemie, the total value of the county’s agricultural products reached a record high of $1,084,332,000 in 2022, a 0.22% increase from 2021.

Although strawberries retained the No. 1 spot on SLO County’s top crop list for the fourth year in a row, the crop’s value dipped 13% lower than in 2021, when strawberries’ value exceeded $300 million for the first time.

Lower sale prices for strawberries contributed to the decrease in value in 2022, Settevendemie said.

Wine grapes followed close behind strawberries with a value of $261,937,000. Lower grape production caused a 7% decrease in value from 2021, Settevendemie said.

The fruit and nut sector as a whole was valued at $624.3 million, down from $713.9 million in 2021.

Avocados’ value plummeted by 42% to $33,597,000, according to Settevendemie.

“That has to do with ongoing drought but also some other localized weather events,” he said of avocados. “Growers let us know that cool temperatures during the cool period impacted fruit set. Heat spells as well as high winds also impacted production.”

Cattle contrast with the swaths of goldfield wildflowers along Highway 58 on April 1, 2023.

Livestock, nursery products up despite drought

The 2022 drought stunted forage growth for cattle, causing ranchers to sell their cattle earlier and at lower weights, according to Settevendemie.

In SLO County, 43,421 head of cattle were sold in 2022 — 4% less than in 2021.

Still, the value of livestock increased by 12% to $48,247,000, Settevendemie said.

“Cattle prices were up 16.5%, making up for animals having to be sold at lighter weights due to the ongoing drought,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the value of nursery products jumped by 28% to $98 million in 2022, according to Settevendemie.

“There’s a lot of market opportunities that have opened up since the (COVID-19) pandemic has subsided somewhat, especially with cut flowers and the rebound of the wedding industry,” he said.

A farmer on Orcutt Road near Biddle Ranch Road uses a special attachment on his tractor Wednesday to harvest seeds from marigold flowers four rows at a time.

Vegetable crops, field crops increase in value

Field crops rebounded from a difficult year in 2022, seeing a 35% increase in value to $20,056,000, according to Settevendemie.

The drought meant numerous acres of dry-farmed field crops went unharvested — especially barley and grain, he said.

Increased prices of alfalfa and grain, however, caused the boom in value for field crops, he said.

Meanwhile, the value of vegetable crops increased by 25.7% to $293,656,000, Settevendemie said.

“Some fields were fallowed due to drought conditions, but strong prices really helped to bolster overall value of the category,” he said.

What are SLO County’s top 10 crops?

Here’s a list of San Luis Obispo County’s top valued crops for 2022:

  1. Strawberries

  2. Wine grapes

  3. Cattle and calves

  4. Broccoli

  5. Cauliflower

  6. Head lettuce

  7. Vegetable and ornamental transplants

  8. Avocados

  9. Brussels sprouts

  10. Cut flowers