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Declining Seasonality in California Agriculture

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May 19, 2020

California has fewer and larger farm employers today than in 2000, when 23,600 agricultural establishments hired an average 405,600 workers and paid $7.1 billion in wages, an average $30,000 per farm. In 2018, some 16,800 agricultural establishments hired an average 423,300 workers and paid $14.6 billion in wages, an average wage bill of $86,900 per farm.

Average employment in California agriculture rose three percent between 2000 and 2018, from 408,600 to 421,800. Peak employment was 492,000 in September 2000 and trough employment was 313,000 in January 2000, a peak-trough ratio of 1.6. By 2018, peak employment was lower, 483,499 in June, and trough employment was higher at 345,500 in January, a peak-trough ratio of 1.4, that is, seasonality at the state level declined over the past two decades.

Agricultural employment increased and seasonality decreased because of the changing mix of commodities, as when raisin grapes, which have a short harvest season, are replaced by table grapes, which are harvested over a longer season. Declining seasonality is especially noticeable in California’s leading farm counties, Fresno and Kern.

Fresno county was the state’s largest farming county in 2000, producing commodities worth $3.4 billion, including $640 million worth of grapes, $400 million worth of poultry, and $355 worth of cotton. Most of Fresno’s grapes were from 171,000 acres of raisin grapes worth $365 billion in 2000. Employment in Fresno agriculture averaged 55,000 in 2000, and ranged from a low of 36,600 in March to over 80,000 in September, a peak-trough ratio of 2.2.

By 2018, Fresno’s farm sales more than doubled to $7.9 billion, and the top commodities were almonds worth $1.2 billion, grapes worth $1.1 billion, and pistachios worth $860 million. Raisin grape acreage declined to 80,000, and the value of the raisin crop was $314 million, less than in 2000 even when not adjusted for inflation. Employment in Fresno agriculture averaged 44,000 in 2018, and ranged from a low of 35,000 in March 2018 to over 53,000 in August, a peak-trough ratio of 1.5.

Over almost two decades, Fresno’s agricultural employment fell 20 percent and seasonality declined as nuts replaced raisin grapes and tree fruits. Trough employment was stable, but peak employment declined significantly.

Kern county’s agriculture evolved differently. Farm commodities were worth $2.2 billion in 2000, led by grapes worth $440 million, citrus worth $290 million, and cotton worth $225 million; the value of raisin grapes, $82 million, exceeded the value of table grapes, $67 million. Employment in Kern county agriculture averaged 43,000 in 2000, and ranged from a low of 33,600 in March to over 63,500 in August, a peak-trough ratio of 1.9.

By 2018, Kern’s farm commodities were worth $7.5 billion, led by $1.5 billion worth of grapes, $1.2 billion worth of almonds, and $1.1 billion worth of pistachios. By 2018, the value of raisin grapes, $128 million, was a tenth of the $1.2 billion worth of table grapes. Employment in Kern county agriculture averaged 62,400 in 2018, and ranged from a low of 42,400 in March to over 72,600 in August, a peak-trough ratio of 1.7.

Over almost two decades, Kern county’s agricultural employment rose by 45 percent and seasonality declined as table grapes replaced raisin grapes and nuts replaced citrus and cotton. Both trough and peak employment rose by 10,000.

Employment Development Department. Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages (Data Search Tool)

Fresno county ag commissioner

Kern county ag commissioner

Seasonality has declined in California agriculture as average employment rose during the winter months and fell during the summer months. The peak employment month changed from September in 2000 to June in 2018.

Fresno county had more agricultural employment than Kern in 2000, when raisin grapes dominated in Fresno

Kern county had more agricultural employment than Fresno in 2018, when table grapes dominated in Kern

Fresno and Kern counties are in the San Joaquin Valley of California