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.

Rural Migration News: The Environment

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The Great Valley Center released a report on the air, land and water in the San Joaquin Valley in July 2012 that emphasized the need to further improve air quality, preserve and enlarge water resources, and adopt green technologies to support sustainable San Joaquin Valley growth. San Joaquin Valley air quality is improving, but the "easy" or less costly reductions in emissions have already been made.

The report analyzed grant programs that subsidized the replacement of older cars and tractors with newer ones, but did not analyze whether subsidized replacement programs were the best way to use limited tax monies to improve San Joaquin Valley air quality.

San Joaquin Valley agriculture relies on water transferred from northern California via the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta and on local groundwater. Both water sources are problematic. Periodic droughts reduce the amount of water that can be transferred, and pumping water kills fish. More groundwater is withdrawn during drought, and less is replenished. Groundwater contamination, often from nitrate runoff, is a growing problem in the San Joaquin Valley.

California's Central Valley covers 60,000 square miles, about 40 percent of the state's land area, and has 20 percent of the state's residents. The northern San Joaquin Valley has been converting prime farm land into housing at the fastest rate, primarily because the Stockton area offers low-cost housing to commuters who work in the Bay Area.

Plans to restore the San Joaquin River may generate jobs in the San Joaquin Valley. Much of the river's water is stored behind the Friant Dam so that it can be released in summer for irrigation. Restoring the San Joaquin River to year-round water flows at a cost of $2 billion is expected to create temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs in tourism and related sectors. Farmers complain that removing dams to create a free-flowing river will eliminate far more agricultural jobs than are created in recreation.

Imperial county in southeastern California stands out in many ways. It has the highest share of Hispanic residents, an economy anchored by government and agriculture, and the state's highest unemployment rate. It also has the highest rate of asthma as measured by hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, over 16 in 2010, compared with nine per 10,000 statewide.

High rates of asthma in Imperial are due in part to farm land dust that is spread by strong winds. Many families who lack health insurance, and the parents of some children covered by Medi-Cal, use the hospital emergency room as their doctor. Two-thirds of hospitalizations for asthma in Imperial county are covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal at an average cost of $16,600.

California's cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions begins January 1, 2013, when emission permits that can be traded will be issued. Emitting firms can use the permits that they receive from the state government, buy permits, or buy offsets for their emissions from projects that remove carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 

AB 32 aims to reduce California's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of about 30 percent. President Obama in 2009 proposed a national cap-and-trade program to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it was dropped in Congress when cap-and-trade was attacked as cap-and-tax.

There are fears of fraud in the buy-offset program, under which emitters purchase credits for their emissions from projects that store carbon that would otherwise go into the atmosphere. These projects, many out of state, allow farmers who reduce methane emissions from livestock waste and plant trees in urban areas to receive payments from emitters. The European Union's eight-year-old carbon trading market has had emitters paying for projects that did not reduce emissions, as environmental consulting firms created projects that did not reduce emissions.

The first auction of carbon offset credits in November 2012 is expected to set a price of about $10 per metric ton of emissions.

Jobs. California added 12,000 jobs in August 2012. The unemployment rate fell to 10.6 percent as some people left the labor force, but California's unemployment rate was third highest among states. In the past 12 months, California added about 300,000 jobs, up 2.1 percent and faster than the 1.4 percent job growth rate of the US economy. About 45 percent of the two million jobless Californians have been unemployed more than 27 weeks in summer 2012.

Bakersfield, known for agriculture, country music and oil, is growing. Kern county employment has almost returned to the September 2007 peak of 240,000, as high energy prices stimulate oil production and construction. Kern county's population is 840,000, and a labor force that is less than 30 percent of the county's population suggests a low labor force participation rate. Fewer than 10 percent of Kern county's adults have bachelor's degrees.

The Delano Regional Medical Center paid $975,000 million in September 2012 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that the hospital unlawfully ordered Filipino nurses to speak only in English.

There are many warehouses near the junction of Interstate 5 and state Highway 99, including those operated by Caterpillar, Dollar General, Ikea and Target. Many San Joaquin Valley cities aim to attract warehouses to create entry level jobs in logistics. The Moreno Valley, an hour east of Los Angeles, is one of the largest logistics centers in the US, with 400 million square feet of warehouses and distribution centers that employ over 200,000 workers.

The New York Times on July 23, 2012 reported that many of the warehouses turn to temp or staffing agencies to obtain workers rather than hire workers directly. Some agencies tell workers to report each morning, and only then determine whether there will be work that day. A suit filed in October 2011 alleges that some of the temp agencies effectively operate a day labor market at the doors of the warehouses each day.

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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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