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Changing crops, growing demand help Stanislaus County growers
The 2018 farm bill includes provisions to support farmers through maintained crop insurance programs, investment in working-lands conservation and improved programs for specialty crops including research.

Farmers are changing what they grow, and in effect, how much they make.

In a record-breaking crop year that yielded $3.28 billion in gross income, the county's most popular crop in 2012, almonds, almost toppled milk as the number one product in Stanislaus County, according to a recent report by the Stanislaus County Agricultural commissioner's office.

The report also comes on the heels of a USDA report released earlier this week which expects the 2013 net farm income for the country to come in at $120 billion.

All in all, production was record breaking, for both the county and the country.

In Stanislaus County, the almond overthrow comes in light of high production and demand for the product, with the area producing over 338 million pounds of the nut last year.

Despite the high demand, dairy continues to reign supreme as the number one ag commodity in Stanislaus County, accounting for $739 million of the total income.

Dan Bernaciak, assistant agricultural commissioner for Stanislaus County, said the record breaking year is largely due to expanding markets and increasing demand for the county's products.

"A lot of the crops we've been producing have seen an increase in demand," said Bernaciak.

Bernaciak applauded the efforts of California almond growers who now produce nearly 100 percent of the domestic almond supply and account for over 75 percent of the worldwide production.

In the last six years, Stanislaus County has seen a 60 percent increase in almonds being planted, with 1 in 6 farmers in the area now growing almonds.

Gary Soiseth, owner of Soiseth farms outside of Turlock stated that the microclimate and demand have made a perfect storm for almond growers.

"We're only one of the microclimates that are capable of growing almonds at the rate we are," said Soiseth. "California almond growers really do it the best."

Along with nuts, grapes and tomatoes also saw in increase in production, according to the report. This marks the first time grapes have cracked into the top 10 crops for the county, contributing over $82 million to this year's total report.

The increase in grapes is largely due to the expanding wine industry in the Valley, an industry that had been previously the territories of more notable areas like the Napa Valley.

"The idea the Central Valley isn't a wine producer is just wrong," said John Monnich, owner of Silkwood wines in Modesto. "We want to change that perception."

But the report wasn't good news for all crops.
Bernaciak voiced other concerns, including increasing production costs and the future of water availability.

"You can't grow crops without the water," said Bernaciak. "We need to be concerned about the receding reservoir levels and possibility of more dry years."

Despite the concerns, Bernaciak applauded the efforts of the county's growers and the industry and mentioned the "multiplier effect," which states that the revenue generated from crops multiplies into other parts of the economy.

According to Bernaciak, the effect is around three times the gross income of crops in Stanislaus County, meaning the industry as a whole is pumping over $15 billion into the area.

"Agriculture is the economic engine to our county," he said. "Ag kept us afloat during downtimes, and is leading the way as we come out of it."