Dry year boosts certain Peninsula crops

A relatively dry 2009 proved to be a blessing for the strawberries at Phipps Farm, a “you-pick” berry outfit in Pescadero.

“The more it rains on strawberries, the more it mildews them,” said owner Teresa Phipps, who also grows olallieberries and boysenberries.

Phipps saw so much rain this year that she didn’t have any strawberries to sell, but she said 2009 was a “very good crop” of the fruit due to less rainfall.

That was generally true for Peninsula strawberry farmers, who grew $1.38 million worth of strawberries in 2009 on a combined 29 acres compared to $543,000 in 2008 on 24 acres, according to a recently released crop report on 2009’s harvest.

Along with strawberries, wine grapes, snap beans and the vegetable everyone loves to hate — Brussels sprouts — were San Mateo County’s star crops in 2009. The news was not as good for local flowers, miscellaneous vegetables or the farming industry as a whole.

Overall, the total value of the county’s agricultural sector fell to $149.2 million in 2009, an 8.3 percent slide compared to $162.7 million the previous year, the second straight year of decline for county farmers.

The county’s biggest agricultural sector — floral and nursery crops — also drooped 6.6 percent to $130 million in 2009. Potted plants, including everything from orchids to ferns, fell from $98.7 million to $92.1 million.

“A lot of the ornamental plants — cut flowers, indoor plants — when people are cutting back on their expenses, those are the kinds of things they cut back on,” said Agricultural Commissioner Fred Crowder, whose office prepared the crops report.

Harvested timber — known as forest products — took one of the biggest hits, dropping 57 percent to $761,000, due to a struggling construction industry, Crowder said.

On the brighter side, Brussels sprouts grew in total value from $5.8 million the previous year to $7.4 million in 2009 despite a slight drop in acreage to 664 acres. Wine grapes also had a good year, increasing in value from $481,000 to $625,000, due partly to an expansion in acreage from 96 acres to 135. Snap beans increased 44 percent from $597,000 to $860.000.

Crowder said the county plans to continue with its “Fresh as it Gets” campaign in partnership with the farm bureau, encouraging residents to support local farmers, almost all of whom are on the Coastside.

“Small margins make the difference between staying in business or not,” Crowder said.

Crop values

A sampling of the changes in value of some of the agricultural products in San Mateo County from 2008 to 2009:

Cut flowers (indoor grown)    
2008: $9,052,000
2009: $7,858,000    

Christmas trees
2008: $302,000
2009: $398,000

Fava beans
2008: $758,000
2009: $608,000

Brussels sprouts

2008: $5,841,000
2009: $7,416,000

Peas
2008: $795,000
2009: $899,000

Strawberries
2008: $543,000
2009: $1,385,000

Wine grapes
2008: $481,000
2009: $625,000

Livestock
2008: $2,378,000
2009: $2,358,000

Forest products (timber)

2008: $1,801,000
2009: $761,000

Potted flowering plants
2008: $98,703,000
2009: $92,156,000

Source: San Mateo County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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