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Santa Barbara County's agricultural industry has huge year, with gross revenue up more than 5%

Massimiliano Martini
Strawberries remain Santa Barbara County's top crop, brining in $850 million last year. Higher prices and an increase in acreage are being credited with fueling the increase.

New annual ag reports shows strawberries remain as county's top crop in 2021, with nursery plants and wine grapes second and third.

Growers on the Central and South Coasts had to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks among workers, supply chain issues, and the impacts of the drought in 2021.

But, it was still a banner year for crops in Santa Barbara County. The just-released 2021 Agricultural Crop Report shows the year’s total crop value rose by nearly $100 million, up 5.1% over 2020.

"It's not that we're surprised... we kind of had a feeling the county was just going to come back," said Matt Maiten, a Deputy Agricultural Commissioner with Santa Barbara County. "The numbers do reflect how great the industry is bouncing back from COVID, and supply chain issues."

The total value of crops in the county for 2021 was $1.9 billion.

Strawberries remain the number one crop, followed by nursery plants and wine grapes. Strawberries came in at $850 million, up more than $120 million from 2020.

"Strawberries... there wasn't much of an impact from the pandemic (in 2021)," said Maiten. "Also, summer plantings are going up, and prices are increasing, which enticed growers to increase their acreage."

Nursery plants came it at at around $120 million for Santa Barbara County last year, up $10 million from 2020. Wine grapes were at $105 million, an increase of about $11 million.

Kevin Merrill is a Manager with Mesa Vineyard Management, which has about 4500 acres of grapes in Santa Barbara County. He says they coped relatively well with the pandemic.

"I think it was kind of a status quo year for Chardonnay and Pinot," said Merrill.

He said the number were helped by the fact the grape production increased by 800 acres in the county in 2021.

Some crops didn’t fare as well. Avocados took a major drop, from $80 to $50 million in the county. But, Maiten says that’s the result of the cyclical nature of the avocado industry, especially impacts like rainfall.

It might be hard for Santa Barbara County’s ag industry to repeat the more than 5% increase in revenue it saw last year, but Maiten said more than halfway through 2022, it’s looking pretty good.

Merrell is also optimistic, but he says there are a lot of factors which could affect growth for those in his business. He said rain, and limited underground water supplies could be an issue.

A couple of interesting facts from the report. Based on export permits, the top international food recipients from the county are Canada, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

And, organic farming continues to boom in the county. There were 171 organic growers in Santa Barbara County in 2021. Strawberries, carrots, and celery are the biggest organic crops in the county.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.