Mount Vernon — Skagit County farmers produced about $314 million worth of crops in 2020, three dairy farms went out of business, and crops such as Brussels sprouts continued to grow in popularity.
These are just several of the findings from annual agriculture statistics released Thursday by the Washington State University Skagit County Extension.
Potatoes continue to be the county’s most valuable crop, bringing an estimated $60 million a year to producers. In 2020, Skagit farmers planted 12,000 acres of potatoes, mostly the red, white, yellow, purple and fingerling varieties sold fresh in grocery stores.
About 2,000 acres of potatoes — valued at between $3,000 and $5,000 an acre — were unable to be harvested due to heavy rains in fall 2019, according to a summary of the statistics.
While some crops were negatively impacted by wet weather, other crops thrived, said extension Director Don McMoran, who puts together the statistics.
“The spinach seed crop in 2020 was amazing, one of the best historically, because it really likes cool and wet (weather),” he said.
Skagit County produces about 8 percent of the world’s spinach seed, according to the statistics.
McMoran said the 2021 weather picture will be completely different, with many crops impacted by hot, dry weather and record-breaking temperatures.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought its own challenges to agriculture in 2020.
McMoran said some farms faced the collapse of markets due to COVID-19 shutdowns of businesses and schools. Other farms got a pandemic boost.
“There was a phase (during the pandemic) when the shelves were empty in a lot of grocery stores and warehouses,” he said. “If you had product to sell, some producers did really well.”
The statistics note that potato farms were able to recoup some losses from fall rains due to the increase in demand.
McMoran said he heard from some producers that because of high demand buyers became less picky about taking blemished or imperfect fruits and vegetables.
Even as demand remained high for farmers’ products in 2020, the pandemic created extra stress for many working in agriculture, McMoran said.
The county lost three dairies in 2020, dropping from 26 to 23, according to the statistics.
Dairies faced plummeting milk prices in spring 2020, though prices partially rebounded by year’s end.
McMoran said dairies are also adjusting to changing rules and regulations, such as new overtime pay requirements that began this year.
He expects to see more dairies go out of business.
“That is very concerning to me,” he said. “Without animal agriculture in Skagit County, we’re not going to have as much success.”
He said the manure produced by dairy farms is used to fertilize crops and improve soil quality.
The 2020 statistics also show farmers are planting more of certain crops.
Brussels sprouts — a new crop for Skagit County in the past decade — increased from 1,750 to 2,000 acres between 2019 and 2020.
Dried beans, such as pinto and red beans, are also on the rise, increasing from 1,500 to 2,000 acres.
McMoran said he believes the Skagit County extension is the only one in the state to produce annual statistics on local agriculture. He said he gathers the statistics from economic data and conversations with farmers.