Amid a $ 37 million drop in crop income in San Mateo County in 2020 due to wildfires and economic factors, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District is working with coastal farmers to improve practices and help shape a sustainable future.
The San Mateo County Resource Conservation District held a meeting on November 18 to discuss the county’s 2020 crop report, listen to farmers’ experiences, and discuss the district’s programs helping agriculture. The district is responsible for conservation and assisting the process through technical, financial and educational assistance and operates independently of the county government.
A presentation of the San Mateo County 2020 Crop Report by Koren Widdel, Agricultural Commissioner for San Mateo County, showed a $ 37 million decrease in gross production value in 2020.
Total production in 2020 was $ 93 million, up from $ 130 million in 2019. Flower and nursery production was the main decline, with $ 58 million in production in 2020 from $ 90 million in 2019, a variation of $ 32 million.
“The reason we are seeing such a large decrease from 2019 to 2020 is that a large nursery has gone out of business and virtually all of its production has been phased out,” Widdel said.
She noted that there was interest in growing cannabis in the greenhouses that opened. However, often hemp production has stepped in instead. Widdel said hemp does not have a large market or high value, leading to early struggles and low production. She noted that information on cannabis cultivation will not appear in the report as it is not legal at the federal level.
Vegetable production decreased by $ 4.4. million to $ 22.2 million, while forest products declined to $ 684,000 from $ 4.3 million in 2019. A $ 2.5 million increase in revenue was recorded for the livestock, field crops, livestock products, honey, and fruit and nut crops registering modest increases. Brussels sprouts, one of the county’s largest vegetable crops, declined from around $ 4 million in 2020 to around $ 9.5 million. Widdel said the decline in Brussels sprouts was due to falling market prices for growers and their inability to get the price they were previously getting. Widdel said there is significant competition from Monterey County for Brussels sprouts as well, with production areas also close to Monterey County.
The district is collaborating on various policies and programs to help farmers through the San Mateo County Climate Action Plan, funding programs and in collaboration with the Greater Bay Area Carbon Farming Hub and the San Mateo County Food System Alliance. It also does research, education, facilitates workshops, provides technical assistance and finances projects of local farmers.
Five farmers from the coast spoke about their respective farms and how the district is partnering and working with them. Representatives included TomKat Ranch, Pie Ranch, Fogline Farms, Mushroom Farms and Oku Farms. Several farmers noted that the district had helped with various projects including Mushroom Farms and helped fund Oku Farms pond improvement. Several noted that regenerative agriculture was vital for agriculture in the decades to come.
Kevin Watt with TomKat Ranch, an 1,800 acre ranch in Pescadero, spoke about the farm’s work on educating and adapting to regenerative breeding. Regenerative agriculture focuses on climate stability by restoring carbon and other nutrients to the soil. The land was left in disrepair by previous ownership, and Watt helped restore the habitat with natural crops. He noted that TomKat Ranch is working with the district on a carbon farm plan for its long term future.
Nicolas Rotundo from Mushroom Farms spoke about the farm’s strategy for moving forward in the coming decades by drawing on traditional knowledge. The certified organic farm spans 753 acres on the coast of San Mateo County and strives to provide food, electricity and water locally through regenerative agriculture. This is the former site of the Campbell’s Soup mushroom production plant.
The San Mateo Resource Conservation District also received a Spotlight Award from the NOAA Fisheries Partner for its efforts to restore and protect coho salmon on the central coast of California. Barry Thom, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region Regional Administrator, thanked the San Mateo Resource Conservation District for helping to restore spawning habitat near Pescadero and noted that it was critical to restoring the stock of coho salmon. NOAA is the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency responsible for monitoring the country’s ocean resources and habitat. The San Mateo Resource Conservation District has been involved in removing barriers at Butano Creek to restore habitat, reduce creek sedimentation, restore native salmon migration, and ensure Pescadero will flood less. NOAA reports to Congress every two years about nine partner agencies across the United States that have worked to help.