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April 2014, Volume 20, Number 2

Agriculture: California, US

Strawberry production continues to expand, with production a record 195 million trays in 2013 from 40,800 acres. California produces 85 percent of US strawberries.

California had about 700 strawberry farms in both 2002 and 2007, and harvested acreage rose from 32,200 to 34,100 acres over these years. The leading counties were Monterey and Ventura, each with about 10,600 acres in 2007, followed by Santa Barbara, 5,500 acres and Santa Cruz, 4,000 acres.

The California Strawberry Commission reported 400 strawberry farms in 2014. The CSC says that 70,000 jobs are associated with strawberry production, and that 35 percent of strawberry revenue covers the cost of labor.

Milk is the most valuable commodity produced in California, the leading dairy state. The US has 9.2 million dairy cows, and they produce an average 22,000 pounds of milk a year each, for a total of 205 billion pounds in 2013. Farmers receive about $20 a hundredweight for milk.

California had almost 800,000 bearing acres of almonds at the end of 2012, and is adding another 25,000 acres a year. About 70 percent of the state's almonds are exported, but growth in acreage may slow because of concerns about water availability. An estimated 40 percent of the state's almonds depend on surface water that is pumped south via the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta.

California also has about 260,000 bearing acres of walnuts, and most of them are exported. Walnuts require less water, and are less damaged by frost.

US Farm Bill. Congress approved a 950-page five-year farm bill in February 2014 that will cost $956 billion over the next decade. Almost 80 percent of the spending under the Agriculture Act of 2014 provides food and nutrition assistance to poor people.

One of the most contentious issues was how much to reduce food-stamp assistance, which can be triggered if states provide $1 in heating assistance to poor residents. Under the new Farm Bill, states must provide at least $20 in a so-called "heat and eat" payments in order to trigger eligibility for food stamps.

The farm bill places new caps on farm subsidy payments and creates a new milk insurance subsidy program. It retains both the federal sugar program, which keeps US sugar prices high via restrictions on imports, and a USDA catfish-inspection program that duplicates FDA inspections. The goal of duplicate inspections to protect US catfish producers from competition from Vietnamese imports.

Direct payments to farmers, which totaled $5 billion between FY96 and FY14 whether farmers planted crops or left land idle, were eliminated. Some direct payment funds are redirected to subsidies to expand crop insurance.

Fruit and vegetable farmers were given more access to crop insurance, and block grants to help fruit and vegetable farmers sell their commodities were increased. Federal funding to support organic farming increased, and organic farmers do not have to pay assessments for certain federal marketing programs.

China is reportedly stealing US agricultural seed technology, focusing on inbred or self-pollinating seeds that can withstand drought and pests. Several Chinese scientists in the US have been accused of stealing inbred corn and rice seeds and sending them to colleagues in China. The American Seed Trade Association says that stealing US seeds can save Chinese seed firms years of costly research.

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