Field crops and livestock values see downturn as result of drought conditions

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Crop values in San Luis Obispo County were up last year, according to the 2021 Annual Agricultural Statistics presented by SLO County Agricultural Commissioner Martin Settevendemie.

For the second time in its history, SLO County crop values reached over the $1 billion mark, making it a 10 percent increase from 2020, sitting at $1,081,952,000.

While the overall market goods were strong, fruit and nut crops bolstered the county’s market, with field crops and livestock producers experiencing a decline.


According to the report, farmers continue to be affected by the pandemic with a shortage of supplies and an increase in their input costs. Still, they note the overall market for agricultural goods was strong in 2021.

Field crops and livestock both saw a decrease mainly due to drought conditions as field crops are primarily dry farmed compared to their fruit and vegetable counterparts. The commodity was down a total of 26 percent.

Dry conditions created a low yield for the field crops and inherently less pasture feed available for livestock driving up the need and cost for both grain hay and barley, yet there were hundreds of acres of field crops in SLO County that were not harvested due to product quality from dry conditions.

Those same conditions contributed to the decrease of production decrease in the livestock industry. According to Settevendemie, individual cattle weight was down significantly due to the lack of available forage. 

He added that “Conditions for the cattle industry could take years to rebound as many ranchers have had to sell off most of their herds these past few years in response to the dry weather and poor rangeland conditions.”

Strawberries remained the top-valued crop in the county for the third straight year, reaching its highest valuation in county history at nearly $320 million. 

It comes as no surprise that wine grapes came in as the second highest grossing crop in the county, with an end-year value of $281.5 million. Strawberries and wine grapes make up over 55 percent of the total crop value in the county.

As for avocados and lemons, their value increased despite some unfavorable growing conditions last year. Avocados saw a 22 percent increase and an 11 percent increase for lemons. The crops ended the year substantially higher at $5.7 million and 18.6 million, respectively.

The nursery industry was stable despite challenges from labor shortages and rapidly changing product demands. However, the industry saw additional marketing opportunities due to a decrease in competition from foreign competition. At the end of the year, the nursery industry was valued at $76.5 million.

According to the report, “Vegetable values increased slightly in 2021, as favorable weather conditions enabled growers to withstand the challenges brought on by labor shortages, increased costs, and lower overall prices for some of our main crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower. Although markets were steadier than the previous year, growers still experienced wide swings in farmgate prices throughout the year, and that market instability along with increasing input costs, greatly affected the profitability for local growers.

Broccoli remained the county’s highest value vegetable crop, as acreage and production was up significantly. Cauliflower and head lettuce are the other local vegetable crops that remain within the top 10 valued crops in the county.”

Overall, the vegetable industry saw a slight uptick with a total value of $233.5 million.

“As a former grower, its always interesting 

to see the variety and the bounty that this county produces,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson as he reminded the public that these values are gross income and do not reflect the farmer’s profit.

The top ten commodities by value in 2021 were: 

  • Strawberries
  • Wine Grapes
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Cattle and Calves
  • Vegetable Transplants
  • Cauliflower
  • Head Lettuce
  • Lemons
  • Cut Flowers

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the farmers and ranchers for contributing to this report and making it possible as well as all my staff for taking the time to analyze and compile all of this data,” said Settevendemie.

The 2021 Annual Report will be distributed in late August 2022. Annual Reports from 1928 through 2020 can be viewed at

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 at 9 a.m.