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California Agriculture: Monterey

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April 12, 2022

The coastal county of Monterey is fourth, with farm sales of $4 billion, followed by Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where farm sales are almost $2 billion each. In the three coastal counties, the leading commodity by farm sales is strawberries.

The three major coastal farming counties have 600,000 acres of irrigated crop land, half in Monterey county, or eight percent of the state’s irrigated crop land, but they produce $8 billion worth of farm commodities a year, over 15 percent of the state’s farm sales.

Monterey. Some 300,000 acres of Monterey county farm land is irrigated, and most of Monterey’s irrigated crop land straddles Highway 101 that runs north-south through the center of the county. Monterey’s harvested crop land exceeds 300,000 acres because some land can produce two or more vegetable crops a year. Two thirds of Monterey county’s farm land is pasture.

Monterey’s 300,000 acres irrigated crop land lie along Highway 101

Monterey county had farm sales of $4 billion in 2020, almost three-fourths from vegetables, making Monterey the US salad bowl. The leading commodity was strawberries worth $920 million, followed by leaf ($710 million) and head ($430 million) lettuce.

Lettuce and strawberries accounted for over half of Monterey’s farm sales in 2020

Monterey County's Top Crops
Crop 2020 Crop Value 2020 Crop Ranking 2019 Crop Ranking
Strawberry $922,683,000 1 2
Leaf Lettuce $712,681,000 2 1
Head Lettuce $428,580,000 3 3
Broccoli $341,495,000 4 4
Cauliflower $192,790,000 5 5
Spinach $141,284,000 6 10
Nursery & Flowers $119,836,000 7 9
Brussels Sprout $116,250,000 8 7
Celery $114,920,000 9 12
Livestock & Poultry $110,891,000 10 11

Since 2000, head or iceberg lettuce has lost its dominance to leaf lettuces such as Romaine.

Leaf lettuces have replaced head lettuce as most planted and valuable

Lettuce Production
Head Lettuce
Crop Year Acreage Production per Acre Total Unit Value per Unit Total
Naked 2020 5,796,000 ctn $11.30 $65,495,000
2019 5,656,000 ctn $13.60 $76,922,000
Wrapped 2020 20,548,000 ctn $13.80 $283,562,000
2019 21,536,000 ctn $14.90 $320,886,000
Bulk 2020 283,000 ton $281.00 $79,523,000
2019 306,000 ton $380.00 $116,280,000
Head Lettuce, Total 2020 39,007 1,005 39,202,000 ctn $428,580,000
2019 40,277 1,020 41,083,000 ctn $514,088,000
 
Leaf Lettuce
Crop Year Acreage Production per Acre Total Unit Value per Unit Total
Butter Leaf 2020 939 950 892,000 ctn $10.40 $9,277,000
2019 1,045 950 993,000 ctn $10.90 $10,824,000
Endive 2020 329 900 266,000 ctn $11.30 $3,006,000
2019 318 1,100 350,000 ctn $9.26 $3,241,000
Escarole 2020 236 900 143,000 ctn $12.30 $1,759,000
2019 171 1,100 188,000 ctn $13.50 $2,538,000
Green Leaf 2020 4,779 950 4,540,000 ctn $13.30 $60,382,000
2019 6,406 950 6,086,000 ctn $10.59 $64,451,000
Red Leaf 2020 2,694 950 2,559,000 ctn $12.50 $31,988,000
2019 3,194 950 3,034,000 ctn $11.10 $33,677,000
Leaf Lettuce, Bulk 2020 34,800 ton $581.00 $20,219,000
2019 35,100 ton $630.00 $31,059,000
Romaine, Fresh 2020 33,410 1,000 33,410,000 ctn $13.90 $464,399,000
2019 35,203 1,000 35,203,000 ctn $14.28 $502,699,000
Romaine, Bulk 2020 239,000 ton $509.00 $121,651,000
2019 238,000 ton $807.00 $192,066,000
Leaf Lettuce, Total 2020 54,912 54,802,000 ctn $712,681,000
2019 58,846 58,728,000 ctn $840,555,000
 
Lettuce Crops Total 2020 93,919   $1,141,261,000
2019 99,123   $1,354,643,000

Most head and Romaine lettuces are harvested and wrapped in plastic in the field for sale to consumers, and such field-wrapped lettuces accounted for two-thirds of the value of all lettuce in 2020. Bulk lettuces are harvested and placed in bins for processing into bagged salads.

Most head and Romaine lettuce is bagged in the field

The 10,000 acres of strawberries in Monterey county generated 35 tons an acre worth $2,600 a ton or $1.30 a pound. A quarter of Monterey county’s lettuce acreage, and a third of the county’s strawberry acreage, is organic.

Workers harvesting strawberries

Monterey wine grape acreage has been stable at 45,000 acres, but tonnage and the value of wine grapes fluctuate. Monterey wine grape production peaked at 200,000 tons worth almost $250 million in 2014, and was less than 100,000 tons worth about $100 million in 2020 due to fires that led to over 10 percent of the county’s wine grapes not being harvested.

Monterey wine grape production and value fluctuates

Cannabis is not included in these farm sales data. Monterey county is a leading producer of cannabis. County farm-level sales were almost $500 million in 2020, including 85 percent from mixed light flower, meaning that the cannabis was grown in a greenhouse with natural and artificial light.

Most cannabis relies on natural and artificial light

Cannabis Production and Value
Product Production Unit $ per Unit Value
Nursery Products 2,063,000 Each $11.00 $22,693,000
Flower (Mixed Light) 460,000 Pound $900.00 $414,000,000
Flower (Indoor) 36,200 Pound $1,100.00 $39,820,000
Trim 99,300 Pound $75.00 $7,448,000
Seed 141,000 Each $1.00 $141,000
Total 2020   $484,102,000
Total 2019   $449,688,000

Employment. Employment in Monterey county agriculture averages 50,000, which suggests that up to 100,000 individuals are employed for wages on county farms sometime during the year due to seasonality and turnover. Average direct-hire employment in crops (NAICS 111) has been stable at about 19,000 since 2010, but average employment in crop support services (1151) almost doubled to 35,000 in 2020.

Direct-hire average crop employment (blue) has been stable in Monterey since 2000, while average crop support employment almost doubled

About two-thirds of employment in Monterey crop support services is with FLCs (115115), whose average employment was 22,000 in 2020. However, the fastest growth in crop support employment has been in post-harvest sorting and packing, 115114, where average employment almost tripled to 11,000 in 2020.

Average weekly wages in crop support were lower than direct hire wages until 2016, when crop support wages of $705 were five percent higher than direct-hire’s $680 a week. Crop support wages remain five percent higher at $815 versus $785 for direct hires in 2020.

Within crop support, FLC weekly wages of $680 in 2020 were 85 percent of the $815 average for all crop support workers, and this ratio has been stable over the past two decades. Post-harvest sorting and packing wages, by contrast, fell from 50 percent above average crop support wages to 35 percent above or almost $1,100 a week in 2020.

The average weekly wages of crop support workers (orange) have been higher than the wages of direct-hire crop workers since 2016

These employment and wage data include H-2A workers. Monterey county had 6,400 jobs certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY20, a quarter of all H-2A jobs in the state.

County Ag Commissioner Reports

https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showpublisheddocument/103876/637622804394330000

https://www.countyofsb.org/uploadedFiles/agcomm/Content/Other/crops/2020.pdf

https://cdn.ventura.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Agriculture-Commissioner-2020-Crop-Report.pdf

Martin, Philip and Zach Rutledge. 2021. Proposed changes to the H-2A program would affect labor costs in the United States and California. California Agriculture.


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