Butte County agricultural production hit hard in 2020, losing $63M

Labor shortages, exporting troubles and supply and demand all led to to the agricultural community taking a hit in 2020.

Posted: Oct 27, 2021 6:57 PM
Updated: Oct 28, 2021 8:51 AM

BUTTE CO., Calif. - The 2020 Butte County Crop and Livestock Report is out, showing that the gross value for agricultural production was $625,384,709, representing a decrease of almost $63 million from 2019.

The biggest contributing factors to this dip were labor shortages, difficulty exporting crops and supply and demand.

The usual crops of rice, almonds and walnuts were still in the top three, but this time in a different ranking.

Rice went from around $166M in 2019 up to $179M. Almonds went up from $140M to $147M, but walnuts took the biggest hit and dropped $86M going from $214M in 2019 to $128M in 2020.

This is because the crop had a larger yield in 2020.

“With a larger walnut crop and more walnuts to sell, you always see the price come off a bit,” executive director of Butte County Farm Bureau, Colleen Cecil said. “Last year it came down significantly, it came down significantly and we saw a lot of walnuts on the market to sell, which happens and again, typical supply and demand.”

It is no secret that industries across the country faced a labor shortage, and the agricultural community was no exception.

“Now Hiring” signs for farms are still posted for many farms. Rice farmer David Lundberg told Action News Now that he and his son did almost all the work last year on their own.

With the competitive job market, farmers recruited neighbors, friends and whoever they could find to get their harvest done.

“We even had to have family members,” Lundberg said. “My wife even drove rice bank out. She was only supposed to be a fill-in, but she ended up working Monday through Friday until I had another person.”

Cecil also saw other industries driving away some of their workforces.

“When you’re competing with other industries, like the building industry, which is where agriculture often competes for labor, then you have some struggles,” Cecil told Action News Now.

Even with the end of unemployment payments, Lundberg is still short-staffed this year. Farming is seasonal work, so some of his employees went onto full-time jobs. Even while working with fewer people, rice was still the number one crop in 2020.

Agriculture accounts for 7% of jobs in California, so Lundberg is hoping to get more workers out on the farm next year.

Sending crops overseas was another challenge for farmers even though 63 countries and U.S. states import Butte County agriculture products. These locations range from Afghanistan to Vietnam to Southern California.

Local farmer, Andrew Mendoca, grows almonds and walnuts and saw the challenges with shipping his crops in 2020.

“There was a three billion pound crop estimate for the whole state for almonds,” Mendoca said. “What that meant was there were more almonds and the handlers and sellers found buyers for all those projects, but there were so many issues that are still going on today.”

Mendoca added a lot of places did not have the ability to offload the cargo.

“We saw trouble with getting the orders out of the port and finding an adequate number of containers to ship the products to the countries who had placed orders for our almonds and our walnuts,” Cecil told Action News Now.

The county’s crop production value was down 9% overall in 2020 compared to 2019. Farmers expect the 2021 report to reflect similar challenges with the addition of the drought.

Each dollar represented in the report goes beyond just the farms. Agriculture contributes to the economy, jobs, labor income and more.

This report does not reflect the revenue from the processing of these crops into products like chocolate-covered almonds or rice cakes.

The agricultural community was looking at the 2020 crop year because in many instances farmers do not see the payments of their crops until next year's crop is already delivered.

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