FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — There is a bright spot in the economy of California and elsewhere in the nation, and it is agriculture.
As counties across the Golden State begin releasing annual reports on crop revenues, they show prices earned for many commodities are setting records, and not just by a little.
Across Central California's San Joaquin Valley, the region with the highest farm revenues in the nation, gross crop values showed overall income increases of about 15 percent, a figure tempered as farmers struggle with higher fuel and feed costs.
"The American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, adding that net farm income nationwide reached an all-time high of more than $98 billion behind U.S. farm exports totaling $137.4 billion.
Vilsack said that the current drought is hurting growers across the Midwest, and many have predicted that shortages of feed corn will drive up the cost of everything from chickens to milk.
Still, demand for U.S. agricultural products worldwide is strong, and figures from the USDA show that the value of California's agricultural exports grew to $21.1 billion in 2011, up from $18.2 billion in 2010.
Prices reflect a growing demand for almonds in a region that produces 80 percent of the world's supply, and table grapes, which were competed for by both raisin packers and wineries that suffered weather-related shortages in 2011.
The higher revenues are coming as farmers expand almond and citrus production to meet export demands generated, in part, from key new trade agreements.
"Our agricultural economy is connected to the rest of the planet," said Dan Sumner, an agriculture economist at the University of California-Davis. "Poorer countries around the world are turning into middle-income countries and they want fruits and vegetables, which we do well here."