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The business of food production flourishing in Nevada

Sally Roberts
sroberts@nnbw.biz
Livestock production constitutes the largest portion of Nevada's agriculture industry.
Robert D. Moore |

What industries are important to Nevada’s economy? Gaming? Yes. Mining? Of course. Shipping and logistics? Certainly.

Often overlooked is one of the fastest growing industries in Nevada: agriculture. That’s particularly true in northwestern Nevada where the Truckee, Carson and Walker rivers course down from the mountains with an essential supply of water. The Humboldt River and its tributaries also create pockets of agricultural green across the north of the state.

“Agriculture has been an important part of Nevada’s economy for more than 150 years, and we are happy to report significant growth of 50 percent in agriculture production between 2010-2014,” Jim Barbee, director of Nevada Department of Agriculture, said in an email response to questions. “Food and agriculture production and manufacturing are not only important to all Nevadans who like to eat; the industry itself created an estimated $2.7 billion in economic impact to our state in 2014. As agriculture grows, so does our safe and reliable food source.”

As Nevada’s economy has slowly climbed out of the recession, employment numbers for agriculture on-farm activities increased by 5.1 percent, according to the “Economic Analysis of the Food and Agriculture Sector,” released by the NDA in March.

Agriculture production grew by 6.6 percent between 2012 and 2013 — the second highest annual increase right after retail trade, which had a rate of 11.2 percent.

The report states that the Nevada’s food and agriculture sector provided 14,491 jobs and generated more than $4.4 billion in direct sales in 2014 — or 1.9 percent of Nevada’s total output.

Nevada’s top five agriculture commodities in 2014 include:

1. Cattle and calves

2. Hay

3. Dairy products, milk

4. Miscellaneous crops

5. All other animals and products

“Beef cattle, milk and hay production, traditionally large industries in the state, are mainly responsible for the increase,” Barbee said. “Dairy production and processing, which have always been important in our state, are seeing continued economic growth in particular, thanks to the powder milk plant in Fallon.”

The Dairy Farmers of America powdered milk plant in Fallon began production in April 2014. Two million pounds of raw milk daily is turned into 250,000 pounds of dry milk, according to a 2015 NNBW article. Much of it is exported to China.

Food-processing employment, from powdered milk production to candy and coffee, reflects an annual average increase of approximately 9.1 percent.

Agricultural support industries such as equipment suppliers and trucking services — including transport of milk from farm to factory — contributed 2,551 jobs and a $406 million value-added impact.

Related industries, such as agriculture retail and restaurant services, contributed an additional 18,972 jobs and $2.7 billion in industry production value.

“Some less well-known industries saw tremendous growth, including poultry and egg production,” Barbee said. “This commodity’s production value grew 200 percent from 2010-2014, reaching a value of $15.9 million in 2014.”

Nevada agricultural products are far-reaching. As U.S. exports overall have slowed down in recent years, Nevada’s food and agriculture exports are thriving.

Between 2002 and 2014, the state’s agricultural product exports enjoyed a phenomenal growth rate of 164 percent.

Beef accounted for 20 percent of the total agriculture exports, at $34.5 million, with plant products and feeds following.

Dairy and poultry have seen a significant increase in exports. Between 2002 and 2014, dairy exports an astounding 892 percent from 2.5 million in 2002 to $24.4 million in 2014. The powdered milk plant in Fallon, though newly opened in 2014, contributed a significant portion of the growth.

Nevada exports are getting national recognition.

Kimmee Candy, which produces Sunbursts and ChocoRocks at its plant in Sparks, was presented in May with a Presidential “E” award by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. The “E” award honors and recognizes American exporters. Kimmee Candy was one of only 123 U.S companies to receive the award this year.

“Last year, Nevada reached a milestone of $300 million in agricultural exports,” Barbee said. “This is a great sign for Nevada businesses. It shows Nevada products are competing in a global marketplace despite the overall slowing down of U.S. exports due to a high U.S. dollar and stagnating global economy. This also means Nevada businesses are poised to make an entry into the global market, which our department can help with.”