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 update: April rainfall breaks record and economy grows

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The California Department of Water Resources reported in April 2017 that 90 inches of precipitation fell in the northern Sierra mountains, breaking the previous record set in 1982-83. California has one of the most variable climates in North America.

Most precipitation occurs during the winter months, and melting snow is moved from mountains in the north to farmers and urban consumers in the center and southern parts of the state via a system of dams and canals. The Sierra Nevada snowpack usually provides a third of the state's water supply.

Governor Jerry Brown proposed to move water around the environmentally sensitive Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers empty into the San Francisco Bay by building twin tunnels expected to cost $16 billion. The California WaterFix is controversial, generally opposed by Delta residents and farmers. The water agencies south of the Delta are expected to decide by September 2017 whether they will help to pay for the project to move water around the Delta to pumps near Tracy.

Cadiz Inc owns about 50 square miles of land above a major aquifer in the Cadiz Valley, and wants to sell the water to southern California cities. The Mojave Desert Land Trust and most environmentalists oppose the project, but the Trump administration appears to favor allowing Cadiz to pump 50,000 acre feet of water a year from the aquifer.

California's fire season began in July 2017, with major fires around the state burning the grasses and shrubs that resulted from the record rainfall of 2016-17.


California has 12 percent of the U.S. population and 12 percent of U.S. jobs. California suffered more than other states during and after the 2008-09 recession, but is now growing faster than most other states due to the "the three Ts" driving its economy: technology, trade and tourism.

California added 421,500 nonfarm jobs in 2016, including 73,000 in health care services, 55,000 in accommodation and food services, and 52,000 in government. Construction added 42,000 jobs. The state's unemployment rate was 5 percent in early 2017, slightly more than the U.S. rate of 4.7 percent.

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley generates over half of California's farm sales, and also has some of the state's poorest communities. In San Joaquin, a city of 4,000 in Fresno county 11 miles from Kerman, over half of residents are poor.

Many San Joaquin Valley cities are hoping that distribution centers can provide nonfarm jobs. Most warehouses offer starting wages of $12 to $14 an hour, and many children of farm workers prefer year-round warehouse jobs to seasonal farm jobs. Cities such as Tracy with many warehouse jobs often have residents who commute elsewhere for better jobs; three-fourths of Tracy residents commute to Bay Area jobs.

The Los Angeles Times on April 22, 2017 concluded that the demise of unions in southern California construction was associated with declining average hourly earnings. In 1973, U.S. construction workers earned an average $32 an hour in 2016 dollars, compared to $26 in 2016. The share of U.S. construction workers in unions fell from 40 percent to 14 percent over these years, as the share who are Hispanics rose from a quarter to over half.

California has six of the seven least affordable metro areas in the U.S.: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Riverside and Sacramento. Most projections expect the gap between average salaries and rents to widen, making it more difficult for middle-class residents.

This post was published in the most recent Rural Migration News from June 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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