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.

California farm mechanization

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The Los Angeles Times reviewed the status of mechanization in various crops July 21, 2017, emphasizing the large number of prototype machines in development to replace hand workers. From apples to strawberries, tech firms are developing machines to harvest crops.

Asparagus acreage is declining, and many leafy greens are harvested mechanically with knives or water jet cutters. Urban tech firms want radical changes in farming to facilitate mechanization, while firms such as Ramsay Highlander in Salinas stress the productivity gains from incremental changes such as conveyor belts to make hand workers more productive. Machines are being used to plant lettuce so that it does not have to be thinned.

Christopher Ranch, which hires 600 workers to pack and process 90 million pounds of garlic a year at its plant in Gilroy, saw a surge in applications after raising packing shed wages from $11 to $13 an hour in 2017; the firm's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 in 2018. The wages of more skilled packing shed workers rose as well. Christopher uses FLC (Farm Labor Contractor) crews and H-2A workers in the fields, where workers are paid piece rates.

Most wine grapes are picked by machine, a practice that can improve quality because machines can pick at night when temperatures are cooler. By one estimate, about 55 percent of leaf removal to allow the sun to reach grapes is done mechanically, and 20 percent of pruning is mechanized. Picking wine grapes by hand in Napa and Sonoma counties is getting more expensive. Many contractors who charged $150 a ton five years ago wanted $300 a ton in Fall 2017 to hand-harvest grapes.

Guadalupe's Apio Inc. and labor contractor Pacific Harvest in August 2017 agreed to pay $6 million to settle a class-action suit alleging that they had underpaid employees by not paying them for the time required to put on and take off protective gear.

Farmland Partners, the largest U.S. publicly traded farmland real estate investment trust, in September 2017 announced the purchase of 5,100 acres of almonds, pistachios and walnuts in the Central Valley from Olam International, an agribusiness with operations in 70 countries and 70,000 employees. Olam will continue to farm the property for the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust).

This post was published in the most recent Rural Migration News from October 2017.

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.


Distribution is by email. If you wish to subscribe, send your email address to ruralmigrationnews-subscribe [at} Current and back issues may be accessed at


The paper edition is available by mail for $30 domestic and $50 foreign for one year and $55 and $95 for a two-year subscription. Make checks payable to Migration Dialogue and send to: Philip Martin, Department of Ag and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA.

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Philip Martin is Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California- Davis, chair of the University of California's Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, and editor of the monthly Migration News and the quarterly Rural Migration News.


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