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July 2017, Volume 23, Number 3

California: Cannabis, Dole

Cannabis production is rising in the Salinas Valley, as growers take over vacant greenhouses that were built for cut flower and berry production. Harborside Farms is a 47-acre operation that replaced raspberries with cannabis to become one of the world's largest cannabis farms. Its owners predict that California will supply half of US cannabis when marijuana can legally move across state lines.

Harborside has 360,000 square feet for 100,000 marijuana plants, far more than the typical 5,000 square-foot cannabis operation. Monterey county assesses a $15 per square foot tax on cannabis farms. About two-thirds of California cannabis is sold illegally out of state. Legal US marijuana sales are about $7 billion a year, while total retail sales are estimated at $50 billion a year.

Strawberries. Farmers received $1.9 billion for strawberries from 40,500 acres in 2015, down from $2.4 billion in 2014. Monterey county accounted for 35 percent of strawberry sales, followed by 25 percent in Ventura and 18 percent in Santa Barbara counties.

There are public and private strawberry varieties. Plant breeders Douglas Shaw and Kirk Larson retired from University of California-Davis and opened a private firm to develop new varieties, California Berry Cultivars in Watsonville, prompting dueling suits in 2017. UC charged Shaw with taking UC secrets, while Shaw and Larson counter-charged that they own the intellectual property used at California Berry Cultivars and that UC destroyed some of their promising varieties. A jury sided with UC in May 2017.

Raisins. Almost 30 percent of the state's 160,000 acres of raisin grapes were harvested mechanically in 2016, including a third planted with overhead trellis systems. About three-fourths of the raisin grapes harvested mechanically are Thompson seedless.

Dairy. California had 1,385 diaries with an average 1,250 cows in 2016; the state's milk production declined in 2016, while Wisconsin's rose. There are five classes of milk products: fluid milk, whey, ice cream, butter and cheese; cheese uses 45 percent of California's milk.

US dairy farmers produce too much milk. Farmers began to expand their herds in 2014, and the US had 9.4 million dairy cows in March 2017. However, with the EU eliminating dairy quotas in 2015 and Chinese and Russian dairy imports declining, US dairy exports faced more competition and smaller markets that, combined with a stronger dollar, reduced US dairy exports to less than $5 billion in 2016. The US has large stockpiles of butter and cheese.

Dole. The Dole Food Company, the largest employer of farm workers in California, plans to go public; David H. Murdock took Dole private in 2013. Dole has sales of about $4 billion a year, and reported small losses in recent years. Murdock acquired pineapple and sugar cane businesses when he bought Hawaii's Castle & Cooke in 1985.