Skip to navigation
Skip to main content
California’s Crop Land
February 24, 2020
Only eight percent of California’s almost 100 million acres of land are used to produce most of the state’s crop output. A quarter of California’s acres are used for farming, but half of these 24 million farm acres are pasture and rangeland, and another 2.2 million acres are woodland, farmsteads, ponds, and roads.
Most of California’s crops are from eight million irrigated acres.
The major change in crop land use over the past two decades is the switch from annual field crops to perennial fruits, vines, and nuts. California’s vegetable acreage has been stable at 1.5 million acres over the past two decades, while the acreage of nuts more than doubled to two million acres, occupying a quarter of the state’s irrigated crop land. The acreage of tree fruits declined, while the acreage of berries rose to almost 53,000, including 70 percent strawberries.
Within vegetables, lettuce increased by 23,000 acres between 1997 and 2017, but head lettuce acreage declined while Romaine and leaf lettuce acreage rose. Tomato acreage declined, broccoli acreage increased, and carrot and garlic acreage was stable.
The largest growth was in the acreage of nuts, almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. The acreage of almonds doubled in the past two decades, and almonds now account for almost two-thirds of the state’s nut acreage.
Tree fruit acreage generally declined over the past two decades, with non-citrus acreage falling from almost 600,000 acres in 1997 to 365,000 acres in 2017, led by a drop of over 92,000 acres of plums and prunes, a decrease of 36,000 acres of apples, and a decrease of 35,000 acres of peaches. Sweet cherry acreage more than doubled to 37,000 acres between 1997 and 2017, and date acreage more than doubled to 11,400 acres.
Grape acreage rose from 850,000 acres in 1997 to 935,000 acres in 2017, when wine grapes were two-thirds of the state’s grape acreage, raisin grapes 20 percent, and table grapes 13 percent. The acreage of citrus fruit was relatively stable at 315,000 acres, as rising mandarin acreage offset declining Valencia acreage.
California’s acreage of fruits, nuts, and vegetables increased from 4.2 million to 5.1 million between 1997 and 2017, and there was an offsetting decline in field crop acreage, from 4.7 million acres to 2.7 million acres. The acreage of hay was relatively stable at 1.3 million acres in 2017, but grain crops fell from over 900,000 acres in 1997 to 150,000 in 2017. Similarly, cotton acreage fell from a million to 300,000 acres over the past two decades.
Almost half of the state’s irrigated crop land has perennial trees and vines. Orchards and vineyards have economic lifespans of two decades or more, hardening the demand for water. Unlike vegetable or field crops that are planted every year and, if not planted, do not need water, perennial trees and vines need water each year.
California’s irrigated acreage has been stable at 8 million acres
Most of California’s irrigated crop land (red) is in the San Joaquin Valley
Texas has five times more farmland than California
Across the US, more farmland is devoted to pasture than to cropland