Sour Economy Likes Berries, Not Cream

California strawberry production set record in 2008, but dairy farmers are struggling

Los Angelenos need look no further than a dish of California-produced strawberries and cream to realize the bizarre circumstances farmers in the Greater Los Angeles Area are facing as a result of the troubled world economy.

On one hand, strawberry production just notched a record year in California, harvesting more than 1.7 billion pounds in 2008, a 77-million-pound increase from 2007. That's great news for Ventura County, which produced about 27 percent of those berries. Needless to say, it's the top crop in The VC.

Now for the paradox.

Milk, the top crop in San Bernardino County and the second-largest crop in Riverside County, is going sour.

The California Farm Bureau is bemoaning a 55-cent-per-gallon price decrease scheduled to take effect Feb. 1.

California dairy farmers, who are already producing less milk than they were a year ago, say they're operating at a loss, a situation that will likely be exacerbated by the price drop, which is tied to decreased demand worldwide for milk, particularly in poor countries.

As a result, dairy farmer organizations are expected to seek government assistance.

Although strawberry sales data has not been reported yet, some suggest an uncertain economy has prompted consumers to eat more healthful meals at home, which might explain the success of strawberries, whether fresh, frozen or canned in jams and jellies.

As a side note, neighboring Kern County, which is not part of the Greater LA Area, also counts milk as its top crop valued at nearly twice as much as that produced in 2007 by San Bernardino County.

-- TJ Sullivan

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