The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.
About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.
County agricultural commissioners released reports of the value of commodities produced the year before. Tulare County had farm sales of $8 billion in 2014, led by $2.5 billion worth of milk, followed by Kern country's $7.5 billion led by grapes worth $1.7 billion. Fresno county had farm sales of $7 billion, led by $1.3 billion worth of almonds.
California produces 20 percent of U.S. milk, but the state's milk output declined in 2015 as farmers grappled with higher feed costs attributed to drought. California surpassed Wisconsin as the leading dairy state in the early 1990s, but in recent years milk output has increased in Michigan, New York and Wisconsin, states with lower-cost land and plenty of water for pasture and feed. Milk prices have also fallen to less than $17 a hundredweight in Fall 2015, reflecting a global surge in milk production.
The Salinas Valley in Monterey county is often called the nation's "salad bowl" because many of the U.S. firms that produce lettuce, broccoli and other leafy greens are headquartered in Salinas. In 2014, Monterey county vegetable crops were worth $3.1 billion, or almost 70 percent of the county's $4.5 billion in farm sales.
Since 1994, the value of Monterey county leaf lettuce (Romaine) tripled in real terms to $775 million in 2014, and the value of strawberries doubled to $700 million. There were 65,000 acres of leaf lettuce in 2014, and 44,000 acres of head lettuce. The value of fruit crops in 2014 was $1 billion, dominated by almost $700 million worth of strawberries and $250 million worth of wine grapes from 46,000 bearing acres.
Neighboring Santa Cruz county had farm sales of $600 million in 2013, including two-thirds from berries, led by strawberries ($200 million) and raspberries ($150 million).
The Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology in Salinas opened in December 2015 in the Taylor Farms headquarters in downtown Salinas to provide space for startups that pay $500 a month to develop agricultural technologies.
California had 5,600 acres of raspberries in 2013 yielding almost 17,000 pounds per acre; grower prices averaged $2.50 per pound. Washington has more acres, 9,900, but lower yields, 7,000 pounds an acre, and lower prices of $1.85 a pound for fresh and $0.85 for processing berries. Since almost all of the Washington crop goes for processing, the value of California raspberries, $240 million in 2013, far exceeds the value of Washington raspberries, $55 million.
Jalisco-born Manuel Mercado arrived in the U.S. in 1986, and today employs 400 workers to help with 270 acres of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Mercado gets plants from and sells berries to Driscoll's, which deducts 15 to 20 percent of the sale price and forwards the balance to Mercado.
Raspberries are bramble berries, named for the thorns on their stalks, and are grown on hoops and under plastic. Most California growers harvest both in spring and fall for two years. Mercado aims to get 3,300 trays (12 six-ounce clam shells) an acre from spring and fall harvests; a full tray weighs 4.5 pounds.
Crews of 30 to 40 workers hand-pick raspberries every few days using one-gallon buckets, and pick an average of four trays or 18 pounds an hour for piece-rate wages of $4 a tray, making picking costs about $0.90 a pound. Growers sort and pack raspberries in the field.
Poland, Russia and Serbia each had about 25,000 acres of raspberries in 2012, compared to 10,000 acres in the U.S. However, U.S. yields are far higher: UCCE estimated 5,000 trays or 11 tons of fruit per acre, with growers receiving $15 or $3.35 a pound.
California harvested 7.2 million tons of grapes in 2015, including four million tons of wine grapes, two million tons of raisin grapes, and 1.1 million tons of table grapes.
The Sunpreme raisin grape variety dries into raisins while on the vine without cutting canes. If Sunpreme grapes avoid too much drop before harvest, and if consumers accept their more fruity taste than raisins made from traditional Thompson seedless grapes, Sunpreme may quickly become the standard raisin grape, dramatically reducing harvest labor requirements.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in June 2015 that a program that kept some raisins off the market to raise prices was an unconstitutional taking of private property. USDA had fined the Hornes, Fresno-area growers and handlers for not withholding raisins. They sued, alleging that mandatory diversions violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the Supreme Court agreed. The ruling means that the Hornes will be refunded the fines and penalties they paid, and that they can sue the government for compensation.
This post was an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in January 2016.
Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.
There are two editions of Rural Migration News. The paper edition has about 10,000 words and the email version about 20,000 words.
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