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 Agriculture update

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California's most recent agricultural report, released early in 2014, reported that the state's farm sales approached a record $45 billion in 2012, almost 50 percent more than Iowa, where farm sales were $32 billion. Farm sales are divided between crops, with $32.6 billion in sales, and livestock products, worth $12.2 billion in sales.


Within crops, fruits and nuts were worth $17 billion, and over half of the value of fruits and nuts came from grapes and almonds. Vegetables and melons were worth $6.8 billion, and lettuce worth $1.4 billion was a fifth of the value of all vegetables. The value of field crops was $5 billion, including a quarter from the hay grown primarily to feed to dairy cows. Tulare is the dairy county, generating over a quarter of the state's sales of milk and cream, and Tulare is also the leading county for cattle sales.


Three counties had farm sales over $6 billion in 2012: Fresno ($6.6 billion) Kern ($6.2 billion) and Tulare ($6.2 billion).




Grapes are the most valuable commodity, including raisin, table, and wine grapes, and Kern is the leading grape-sales county, with 22 percent of grape sales, followed by Fresno and Tulare. Fresno is the leading county for almond sales, with 20 percent of sales, followed by Kern and Stanislaus. San Diego county accounts for a quarter of the state's nursery sales, and Monterey and Ventura counties almost two-thirds of strawberry sales.


Monterey county accounts for two-thirds of lettuce sales, Kern county more than 40 percent of pistachio sales, and Tulare county more than half of orange sales.


California had 860,000 bearing acres of almonds and 820,000 bearing acres of grapes in 2014; California produces about 80 percent of the world's almonds. The gap between almonds and grapes is likely to widen as farmers replace grapes with almonds. There were 525,000 bearing acres of wine grapes, 200,000 of raisin grapes, and 95,000 of table grapes.


The California Canning Peach Association says that the bearing acreage of cling peaches fell by a third between 2005 and 2013, and 336,000 tons are expected to be harvested in 2014. Some growers, worried about the availability of pickers, are testing harvesting machines.


California produced over 90 percent of U.S. strawberries from 41,500 acres in 2013. Most growers hire 1.5 to two workers per acre to pick berry fields multiple times.


Many growers are using mechanical aids to increase worker productivity. In southern California, where fields are large and flat, conveyor belts that straddle 30 to 40 rows and a similar number of pickers raise productivity by eliminating the need for workers to carry full flats of berries to the end of the row. In northern California, where fields tend to be smaller and hillier, a Reiter harvesting aid called the Mercado straddles 10 rows of berries, is operated by pickers via a remote control switch, and can increase productivity by up to 40 percent.


Some growers reduce the piece rate when they introduce machines, thus sharing the productivity gains between workers and employers. In Oxnard, the piece rate of $1.50 a flat before the conveyor belt was used was reduced to $1.20, but the productivity increase enabled most workers to increase their earnings.


A USDA survey released in May 2014 found that a sixth of raisin grape acreage, 31,500 acres, was mechanically harvested in 2013. About half of the mechanically harvested grapes used an overhead trellis system on which bunches of grapes dry into raisins in the canopy over the row, and the other half used continuous tray systems in which mechanically harvested grapes are laid on a continuous tray of paper to dry into raisins.


This post was an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in January 2014.
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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