Grape-damaging frost, combined with high feed prices and a slowing national economy, caused Sonoma County crop values to fall by 7 percent last year.
The results, released Tuesday in the annual crop report, provide an important snapshot of the county?s $593 million agricultural bounty.
Wine grapes, the county?s largest crop, suffered from frost damage and hot windy weather that affected fertilization in 2008. As a result, yields sank for the third year in a row and the value of the grapes sold fell nearly 9 percent to $381 million.
But two smaller crops, apples and vegetables, both benefited from higher prices. The value of the apple crop rose 12 percent to nearly $8 million and vegetable crops increased 18 percent to $9 million.
This year, farm leaders are predicting an average grape crop, a downturn in apple revenue, dismal milk prices and a difficult year for poultry producers.
County supervisors said Tuesday that the report captures key data about the county?s farms.
?It really shows that agriculture is a key element of the economy of Sonoma County,? said board Chairman Paul Kelley.
The trends in Sonoma County are similar for the region.
Mendocino County reported the value of its agricultural crops declined 13 percent <NO1><NO>last year to $176 million. Timber, the leading crop, declined 10 percent to $67 million, and wine grapes declined nearly 18 percent to $62 million.
Lake County?s crop report will be released later this summer. But Steve Hajik, the county?s agricultural commissioner, said it will show declines in the yields of wine grapes, pears and walnuts.
?The frost hit them all,? Hajik said.
The crop reports are a key gauge of farm output over the decades. For example, they show that in 1986 wine grapes overtook milk as Sonoma County?s top agricultural commodity.
Milk remains the county?s second-largest crop. It?s value fell 3 percent last year to nearly $96 million.
And this year, many dairy farmers are operating at a loss, caught between high feed prices and low milk prices. Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Lex McCorvey said in next year?s report, ?I would anticipate a dramatic drop in dairy revenues.?
The county?s third most valuable crop is ?miscellaneous poultry,? including chickens, ducks and turkeys. That category fell 15 percent to $33 million.
Dave Martinelli, vice president of the 300-employee Petaluma Poultry, said it was difficult to know if the decline actually was as steep as stated in the report. But he said last year the national poultry industry suffered from record-high feed prices, even as the wholesale price for chicken breasts fell below 2007 levels.
If the national trends play out here, Martinelli said, ?you would see Sonoma County decline in 2009 as well.?
Nick Frey, president of the 1,800-grower Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission, said the county?s 62,000 acres of grapes again this year had less ideal conditions for pollination. The crop should exceed last year, he said, but the year likely will still be considered average.
The county has about 2,800 acres of apple farms, including nearly 900 acres planted in gravensteins. Apple farmers saw overall prices jump about 14 percent in 2008.
?It was considerably better than it had been in prior years,? said Lee Walker of Walker Apples near Graton.