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Crop revenue up in '08, decline expected in '09
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2008 was a bit rough for most industries, but the region's agricultural producers enjoyed a banner year according to the newly released 2008 Stanislaus County Agricultural Crop Report.

Stanislaus County saw the gross agricultural farm gate income increase $52 million from 2007 to a whopping $2.47 billion in 2008, even after accounting for down years in dairy and almonds. When factoring in the economic impact of related industries - such as trucking and food processing - agriculture generated $11 billion in local business last year.

"It proves again what (Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors) Chairman (Jim) DeMartini says: that ag is the backbone of this county and will continue to be even in tough times," said District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa.

The top local commodity in 2008 - just as in 2007 - was dairy, raising a staggering $689 million. That's $56 million less than local dairy producers earned in 2007, however, due to increases in overhead costs and declines in the value of milk.

The decrease in dairy was offset by a few commodities that experienced surges locally, including silage, the county's number five crop, which leapt up $47 million from 2007. Producers of alfalfa hay, the number eight local commodity, made $29 million more in 2008 than the year previous.

When the 2009 Agricultural Crop Report comes in this time next year, County Agricultural Commissioner Gary Caseri expects to see less good news than found in the 2008 report.

"I must caution the board this upward trend is not continuing," Caseri said. "... We will probably not experience the same (growth) for our 2009 crop year."

The down global economy and an especially troubled local dairy industry are expected to force Stanislaus County ag revenues downward.

Additionally, harsher state regulations could force some producers out of the county. Local egg producers may be especially hard hit by 2008's Proposition 2, which requires larger cages for chickens and could "severely impact" the number of chickens in California due to skyrocketing costs, according to Caseri.

More than 54 million dozen eggs were produced in Stanislaus County in 2008. An additional $230 million was generated through the sale of chickens and chicks, Stanislaus County's third largest commodity.

"That's a lot of chickens," Caseri said.