Chinese tariffs may squeeze local farmers' profits

10/16/2010 Volunteers have harvested grapes at Weisinger's of Ashland since its opening in 1988. Daily Tidings Photo / Jamie Lusch

Kern County's top four crops are now all targeted by Chinese tariffs, something ag officials believe could hurt farmers' profits.

Grapes, citrus, almonds and pistachios are sold all over the world, but data collected by the county agriculture commissioner indicates that China is one of the top foreign destinations.

Before a container of grapes or almonds leaves Bakersfield, it must have a phytosanitary certificate. The paperwork says where it's going and verifies that inspections have been performed on the produce that meet the standards set by the nation to which it's headed.

For the last eight years -- as long as the county has tracked the data -- more phytosanitary certificates have listed China as the destination than any other country.

Just because there have been more Chinese transactions doesn't necessarily mean China is the biggest importer of Kern agriculture. The county doesn't have a master database that includes the size of each shipment, but the number of phytosanitary certificates is generally considered a reliable indicator of which foreign markets are most important to local farmers.

If higher sticker prices for American fruits and nuts tank demand in China, local farmers will need to lower their asking price to offset the taxes, find new markets in which to sell their harvest, or grow less.

"In the short term, I think the potential is that our farmers are going to see an impact to their bottom line," said Glenn Fankhauser, the county's ag commissioner.

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