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East County News Service

October 4, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) -- Agriculture values in San Diego County returned to their growing ways in the latest annual County Crop Report, increasing by 2.63 percent to nearly 1.75 billion dollars last year.  That’s a big shift, after two years of decline during the drought.

The county’s biggest cash crop, however, has NOT changed over the past decade – it’s still ornamental trees and shrubs, such as crepe (CRAPE) myrtles and bottle brushes, indoor plants like bromeliads (BRO-ME-LEE-ADS) and dracaenas, (DRUH-SAY-NUHS) and garden flowers like marigolds and snapdragons.

Avocados, the County’s best known crop, rose in value, even though the number of acres planted was the lowest in five years, meaning consumers are paying more.

Oranges appeared in the top 10 crops for the first time since 2008, while lemon and lime values declined. Eggs and tomato values also continued to decline.

But cacti and succulents continued a two-year jump in production value, nearly doubling from roughly 43 million dollars in 2014 to nearly 83 million dollars in the new report as conservation-minded consumers seek out drought-tolerant landscaping options.

The Crop Report, which can be seen online at the County News Center, is a yearly snapshot of an industry that has been an important staple of San Diego County’s total economy, but one that has faced challenges, including not only  the state’s historic six-year drought that ended in January, but also the rising cost of water, wildfires, freezes, agricultural pests and diseases.

Despite those challenges, total agriculture production values have grown in in six of the last 10 years, up overall from $1.5 billion a decade ago to over $1.7 billion last year.

In fact, in n addition to the 2016 Crop Report, the County’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures released a new “multiplier” formula showing that the total value of agriculture to the county’s economy in 2016 was nearly $3 billion.

The multiplier included direct and indirect benefits of agricultural production, including jobs the industry has created and money its businesses and employees spent in the broader economy.

The County Board of Supervisors has taken several actions in recent years to boost agriculture, including creating a boutique winery ordinance; approving a new beekeeping ordinance that allows more beekeeping; adopting an agricultural easement program that preserves agricultural space; streamlining regulations for things like cheese-making, agri-tourism and onsite horticultural sales.

One crop you won’t see listed on the County’s top ten list, however, is marijuana—or its biological cousin, hemp.   Despite California voters legalizing both recreational and medical use of cannabis, each county can set its own rules—and San Diego’s supervisors have voted to outlaw commercial growing of all hemp and marijuana crops.  So, while some other counties are cashing in on the newest “green” growing trend, you won’t see San Diego voters repealing the financial benefits of pot farming anytime soon.