Despite reported growth in Tuolumne County’s agriculture industry, farmers and ranchers continue to face challenges presented by last year’s Rim Fire and the ongoing drought.
County Agricultural Commissioner Vicki Helmar on Tuesday released the county’s annual crop and livestock report, which tracks production values annually reported by farmers, ranchers and loggers.
This year’s report covers 2013, showing that the county’s overall agricultural sector grew by more than 21 percent over 2012 with a total value of $36.3 million.
However, most of that growth was due to significant increases in logging after the Rim Fire, which along with the second year of drought in the region had significant negative impacts on livestock values.
According to the crop report, the amount of wood harvested in the county more than doubled from 2012 to 2013 largely due to salvage logging in the Rim Fire area. The devastating wildfire burned more than 400 square miles in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties from August through October of 2013, mostly within the Stanislaus National Forest.
Some of that land is also privately owned, and timber production values jumped 85 percent to more than $13.7 million. Salvage lumber harvesting has continued in earnest on U.S. Forest Service land this year.
Livestock values did not fare so well. Helmar reported Tuesday that cattle producers in the county overall reported a $1 million loss last year. Both the fire and drought resulted in less rangeland, which drove ranchers to sell off their herds early. That meant fewer calves, and the calves that were sold were smaller, Helmar said.
Those losses also don’t account for increases in costs for ranchers like rising feed costs and hauling water for the animals. Helmar said she expects the trend to continue.
“Even if the drought would end tomorrow, it would take them years, several years, to rebuild their herds,” she said of the ranchers. “So I’m anticipating that we will continue to see cattle and calf values drop.”
The county’s annual crop report details a statistical snapshot of the county’s agricultural production. The figures represent gross value of commodities and do not reflect production costs or net returns for growers.
Not all ranchers fared so poorly, as increases in turkey values were driven by higher prices and increased production.
The value of existing rangeland in the county has also increased, and both small egg producers and manure suppliers drove a 52 percent jump in livestock and poultry products, according to the report.