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.

Agriculture updates from California and the U.S.

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California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.

The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.

Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.

The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.

Raisin growers must have their hand-harvested raisins on the ground by September 20, 2013 to meet a federal crop insurance deadline and receive payments if their drying grapes are damaged by rain. Hand-harvested raisins normally dry at least two weeks on paper trays in the vineyard, and then another four days after the paper trays are turned to make them easier to pick up.

The Mediterranean fruit fly and related Mexican and Oriental fruit flies have become established in California, according to research published in summer 2013. The state considers the fruit fly eradicated if it fails to appear in collection traps for three generations or about eight months, while researchers say that failure to capture fruit flies during winter does not prove that they are absent from the state. During the 1980s, California sprayed malathion, an insecticide that attacks the fly's nervous system, but switched to releasing sterilized fruit flies in the 1990s after widespread protests from residents whose homes and gardens were sprayed.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which took over an expiring lease to farm oysters in the Point Reyes National Seashore, was ordered to cease oyster farming in November 2012. Kevin Lunny appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in September 2013 ruled 2-1 that the Interior Secretary had the authority to deny an extension of the oyster farm's lease. Lunny's family operates one of the neighboring beef and dairy farms in the area.


Corn is the largest acreage US crop, planted on 89 million acres in 2013, including almost 25 million acres in Iowa and Illinois, the two leading corn-producing states. Average yields are about 155 bushels an acre, and USDA projects a harvest of almost 14 billion bushels in 2013.

Corn prices have fallen by almost half, from over $8.30 a bushel in August 2012 to $4.65 in August 2013, but are still almost double the average $2.50 a bushel of the past decade. The falling price of corn lowers the cost of producing meat, and may slow the rate of increase in midwestern land prices.

High corn prices in recent years pushed some feedlots out of business; the US now has about 77,000 feedlots that buy one-year-old cattle that weigh about 750 pounds, feed them a corn-heavy diet for up to six months, and sell them at 1,400 pounds. The cost of adding 100 pounds of weight to each animal was about $120 in 2013. The 1,000 US feedlots that each had 1,000 or more cattle sold 25 million animals in 2012, and they lost an average $100 on each cow sold.

An average 48 million people received food stamp benefits in 2013 at a cost to the federal government of $80 billion a year. The Senate approved a new five-year Farm Bill in May 2013 that would cut $4.5 billion from Food Stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the House failed to approve a version of the farm bill that would reduce SNAP spending by $20 billion and impose mandatory drugs tests and employment requirements on recipients. In August 2013, House Republicans unveiled a plan to reduce SNAP spending by $40 billion, drawing a veto threat from President Obama.

Half of Californians who qualify for SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh in the state, receive them. Many states hire agencies to find qualified residents and help them to enroll; California does not. Instead, California required SNAP recipients to be fingerprinted until 2011.

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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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