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April 2012 Volume 18 Number 2
California: $37 Billion Sales
California farm sales were $37 billion in 2010, up from $34 billion in 2009, led by a sharp jump in dairy sales to almost $6 billion. Grapes worth $3.2 billion were the leading crop commodity.<< back
Berries. Berries, especially strawberries and blueberries, are an economic success story, with consumption rising because of health benefits, improved quality and year-round availability. The leading blueberry grower-shipper, Naturipe, entered the strawberry business in the last decade. The leading strawberry producer, Driscoll's, began growing and shipping blueberries as well. Driscoll's has a dominant or leading position in raspberries and strawberries, and is adding blueberries to its production.
Global acreage of blueberries has almost quadrupled from 50,000 acres in 1995 to 190,000 acres in 2010, including 109,000 acres in North America that produce about 60 percent of the world's fresh blueberries and 85 percent of the processing blueberries.
Fresh strawberries have been largely sheltered from import competition. The four firms that account for over 50 percent of US strawberry shipments are experimenting with berry production in central Mexico, where many of the frozen berries consumed in the US are produced. Fresh strawberries from central Mexico may displace some strawberry production in southern California, where urbanization is increasing land costs; imports are less of a threat in the more agricultural Watsonville/Salinas region of northern California. Some lettuce growers are beginning to add strawberries.
The soil fumigant methyl iodide (Midas) was pulled from the US market by its Japanese maker in March 2012, who said the decision was based on a poor outlook for US sales. Methyl iodide, used to sterilize soil before strawberries and other crops are planted, was approved by EPA in 2007 and by California in 2010, but was opposed by the UFW and some environmentalists who feared its effects on rural communities and farm workers. Methyl iodide was to be a replacement for methyl bromide, which was banned for destroying the protective ozone layer around the earth.
Lettuce. The California-Arizona iceberg lettuce industry is one of the most concentrated farm commodities, with the largest four California shippers controlling an estimated 60 percent of the volume shipped and the top eight producers over 80 percent. As with strawberries, imports are not a current threat to the US iceberg lettuce industry, but romaine and other leaf lettuces are a potential substitute for iceberg lettuce.
Per capita consumption of lettuce has been about 27 pounds a person per year over the past quarter century, but the share of lettuce that is iceberg fell from almost 90 percent in 1985 to 60 percent in 2010.
The major change in lettuce has been the rise of ready-to-eat lettuce in bagged salads dominated by Fresh Express and Dole, which account for almost 60 percent of bagged salad sales. New firms are entering the bagged salad market, most to provide private-label bagged salads at lower prices.
Almonds and bees. Many California crops including almonds are pollinated by hives of bees brought to the state in February-March. Some 1.6 million hives with an estimated 48 billion bees are in California during the almond bloom, and rental prices have risen because of colony collapse disorder from $50 or $60 to $160 a hive in 2012.
California produces about 80 percent of the world's almonds from 750,000 acres; 70 percent of the almost two billion pounds of almonds are exported. The largest single almond grower, Paramount Farming with 47,000 acres, says that it has 92,000 hives and that pollination services are 15 percent of the cost of producing almonds. Adult field bees normally live about six weeks, and seem to die sooner today than in the past.
Tomatoes. Frederick Scott Salyer, founder of tomato processing company SK Foods in 1990, pleaded guilty in Sacramento to racketeering and price-fixing charges by paying bribes to purchasing agents for Kraft Foods, Frito-Lay North America Inc. and others to encourage them to purchase SK products.
Land. About a quarter of California's 100 million acres of land are used for agriculture, but less than a third of the 28 million acres of farm land in California are used to grow crops (most is pasture and range land). California accounts for 12 percent of US farm sales with less than three percent of US farm land and crop land.
About half of the roughly eight million acres of California crop land are used to produce fruits and nuts (2.9 million acres), vegetables and melons (1.2 million acres), and horticultural specialties such as nursery products, flowers and mushrooms. However, the FVH commodities that account for half of the state's crop land generate over three-fourths of the state's farm sales. California produces almost all of a dozen US commodities that range from almonds and artichokes to pistachios and walnuts.
Water. The federal Central Valley Project announced in March 2012 that farmers would get 30 percent of their allotment in 2012, down from 85 percent in 2011. Water allotments may increase if late-season rains increase the water supply. In 2009, a drought reduced water allotments to about 10 percent, leading to the fallowing of about 285,000 acres and 9,800 fewer farm jobs.
The Republican-controlled House in February 2012 approved a bill, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, that would repeal parts of a 1994 court settlement that set aside some federal irrigation water for environmental purposes and toughened the terms of federal irrigation contracts. Republican supporters of the bill say that it will create jobs in the San Joaquin Valley by assuring farmers sufficient water to plant crops.