Agricultural production has its ups and downs


The tops of the Santa Cruz mountains in San Mateo County define the western horizon that overlooks Bayside cities and towns vibrant with the high-tech pulse that drives the economy on the Peninsula and in the rest of Silicon Valley.

The ridge silhouetted against the eastern sky (seen from the other side of those same mountains) overlooks communities organized around a smaller, older, slower economy: agriculture, an enterprise whose products are regularly seen at the county's 24 farmers markets, including those in Menlo Park and Portola Valley.

In San Mateo County, vegetables are 21 percent of the agricultural economy and were the fastest growing sector, according to a recent report from the county's Department of Agriculture. The value of the vegetable crop, $28.8 million in gross income to farmers in 2015, was up 26 percent from 2014.

Vegetables grown commercially in the county include Brussels sprouts, leeks, beans, peas and pumpkins as well as miscellaneous others such as cauliflower, herbs, lettuce, mushrooms, potatoes, squash and tomatoes.

The leeks, valued at $2.8 million in 2015, rose 40 percent in value, the report says. The Brussels sprouts crop, valued at $15.2 million, represented a 27.5 percent increase over the previous year, while the group that includes cauliflower and mushrooms was up 28 percent at $6.1 million.

An important agricultural category that headed downward in production value in 2015 were plants grown inside or outside nurseries, representing 72 percent of agricultural output. Nursery crops, valued at $95 million, showed a 24 percent drop compared with the previous year. Christmas trees held steady.

The report shows seafood, another major category, at $16.8 million in 2014, a drop of about 2 percent from the previous year, while the catch, at 20.6 million pounds, was up by 1 percent. The three most valuable items: Dungeness crab at $8.7 million, squid at $5.6 million, and Chinook salmon at $1.16 million.

Other crops that brought in more than $1 million annually in San Mateo County in 2015: forest products, fava beans, cattle and calves, and livestock products, including eggs, wool and cheese.

In the county overall, the total value of agricultural products was $132 million in 2015, down 14 percent, or $19.7 million, from the previous year.

The number of organic farms in the county rose 26 percent (to 24 farms) in 2015, but the amount of acreage in production for organic products dropped slightly, the report says.

San Mateo County exports agricultural products to some 30 countries. Much of it, 46.3 percent, goes to Asia, the report says. Thirty-eight percent is distributed in 23 U. S. states, including Hawaii, and Canada.

Pest interception

Keeping these crops healthy is a major task for the county's agriculture department. Employees during calendar year 2015 conducted more than 18,000 inspections of parcel carriers and on 18 occasions, intercepted agricultural pests, the report says. At airports, inspectors conducted 2,700 inspections and found pests 31 times.

Most common on the list of pests these inspectors found on these occasions were non-native moths and butterflies (11 times) and scale insects (10 times), but the list also includes the Southeast Asian fruit fly (once), the Cuban brown snail (once), non-native ants and mites (five times each) and thrips (three times).

Department employees trapped a guava fruit fly in San Carlos, and sap-sucking Asian citrus psyllids in Daly City and Pacifica, the report says.

The department also took steps to control invasive weeds, such as mapping their presence and using eradication methods that included hand-pulling and herbicides, the report says. The weeds included fertile capeweed, skeletonweed, purple loosestrife and, new for 2015, jubata grass.

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