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 Labor and Water Update

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California's labor force in summer 2016 was 19.1 million, including 18.1 million who were employed. Los Angeles County has a labor force of five million, followed by 1.6 million each in Orange and San Diego counties, and almost one million each in Riverside and San Bernardino countries, that is, the five major southern California counties have almost 55 percent of the state's labor force.

About 16.5 million California workers are employed in nonfarm wage and salary jobs; there are 430,000 hired farm workers. Four sectors include two-thirds of the state's wage and salary workers: trade, three million, followed by professional and business services, education and health services, and government, which each employ 2.5 million.


California's Drought Emergency Assistance Program (DEAP) aimed to provide services to 3,200 households adversely affected by the drought in 2015-16 provided assistance to almost 5,000 households. Some $7.5 million was made available, including $6.5 million that was spent on direct services, an average of $1,340 per household. Most of the households that received assistance were in the San Joaquin Valley. There was a wide variance in family income of those receiving DEAP assistance, from $200 to $3,000 a month.

The four-year drought between 2011 and 2015 was the worst since recordkeeping began in 1895, and 2014-15 were the hottest years on record, exacerbating the drought. Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014, and the Legislature appropriated $3 billion from voter-approved bonds to improve water management. Urban water users reduced water consumption by over 25 percent between 2013 and 2015.

Agriculture uses about 80 percent of the state's water, and farmers pumped well water because less surface water was available. The 2015-16 water year was almost normal, so that less than 100,000 of the state's 9.3 million irrigated acres were fallowed for lack of water. A U.C. Davis model of water usage assumes that agriculture normally uses 26 million acre feet of water, including 18 million acre feet of surface water and eight million acre feet of ground water.

Governor Brown proposed twin-tunnels costing $15.5 billion to move fresh water from northern California around the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta and into reservoirs and groundwater recharge aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley, which has over half of the state's agriculture. The California Water Fix tunnels would be four-story, 40-foot wide tunnels that would carry water 35 miles from north of the delta near Clarksburg to the pumping station in Tracy.

Proponents say that the tunnels would ensure a more reliable water supply and protect fish species, while opponents counter that they would jeopardize farming in the 1,100-square mile Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta that is laced with islands and sloughs and destroy vital wildlife habitat.

If the tunnels are built and water marketing is liberalized, farmers who grow rice and other water-intensive but low-value crops in the Sacramento Valley could fallow their land and sell the water to which they are entitled to farmers who grow higher-value crops in the San Joaquin Valley.

Without water marketing, more farmland may be fallowed in the San Joaquin Valley. The State Water Resources Control Board in September 2016 proposed that the natural flow of the San Joaquin River into the Delta be raised from 20 percent to 50 percent, which would reduce the water available to farmers around Modesto. Farmers criticized the proposal, asserting that leaving more water in the river for fish would reduce the water available to grow food; they threatened to sue.

This post was an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in October 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.


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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