California Agricultural Losses Were Largely Predictable

Of all the impacts California’s climatic and regulatory drought had on the state in 2015, there’s one number that should be reflective of the state’s refusal to deliver irrigation water to Central Valley farmers.

Earlier this month the last of the eight San Joaquin Valley counties submitted their annual livestock and crop reports to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. These reports are required by law and can be easily found online.
The numbers are disappointing, but not surprising.

In 2015 farm producers in the eight counties – Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin – grossed about $34.7 billion from the sale of the fruit, fiber, vegetables, nuts, milk and other products raised in the Valley. This is 12 percent less than what they received in 2014, which for all was a record high.

These eight counties produce roughly 300 different commodities consumed domestically and shipped globally. Some of these products take little further processing before they wind up in household pantries and refrigerators; some are further processed into value-added products that aid the bottom lines of local food processors that employ thousands of Valley residents.

Tomatoes are just one example of a significant Valley crop that add value to our local economy as they are sliced, diced, canned and squeezed into cans, bottles and jars destined for private kitchens and commercial restaurants around the globe.

Here are a few other quick facts about San Joaquin Valley agriculture:

  • The top three counties in the United States by gross agricultural receipts exist here;
  • Most of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown here;
  • The dairies in one of these counties combine to produce more milk than most states; only Wisconsin, Idaho and New York produce more milk than Tulare County; and,
  • Most of the nation’s fresh citrus is produced in this valley.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Nor is it meant to take away from food production that happens in other parts of the state, which includes the fine wines produced from grapes grown in the Napa Valley and along the Central Coast, and the specialty crops such as horseradish and peppermint grown in the volcanic soils of northwestern Modoc and eastern Siskiyou counties.

None of this happens without ample supplies of good irrigation water. Surely the gross numbers illustrate how reduced irrigation resources can impact local farms – farms that for the most part are owned and operated by families, not the “mindless corporations” insinuated by those who freely toss around the phrase “Big Ag” while denigrating commercial farming.

While it’s fair to say that market fluctuations in commodity pricing also played a role in the agricultural downturn, growers can overcome those by planting profitable crops with higher margins as long as there is water available to grow them.

This in turn typically leads to better job stability throughout the region as the greater labor force that supports and supplies the agriculture industry remains sufficiently employed.

Source: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

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