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July 2020, Volume 26, Number 3

California: Covid-19 Impacts

There were three major impacts of the coronavirus on agriculture. First, spending on food shifted from meals away from home to meals at home. This reduced overall food spending, since the cost of food away from home is higher to reflect convenience in fast food and cafeterias or atmosphere in restaurants.

Second, there were shifts between foods, away from fresh milk as schools closed and away from fresh meat, seafood and produce as restaurants closed. Within supermarkets, consumers shifted from purchasing goods at the side and back of the store, such as fresh produce and meat, to the center of the store where pasta and canned and frozen foods are often located. Farms producing for the food service industry, which encompasses outlets serving food away from home, from airlines to college dorms to restaurants, lost most of their customers.

Third, fears of too few farm workers proved to be unfounded during the first month of stay-at-home orders. Farm workers were deemed essential and expected to continue reporting to work. As hired worker employment rose toward its summer peak, there were few reports of labor shortages. School closures encouraged some mothers to stay home, but DOS waived interviews for H-2A workers, enabling the 10 percent of US crop workers who are Mexican guest workers to enter the US.

The major short-term impacts of Covid-19 in the food system include widespread layoffs in the hospitality industry, such as hotels, restaurants and bars, and outbreaks in meatpacking plants, which often have several thousand employees working close to each other.

2018. California?s farm sales were $50 billion in 2018, the same as in 2017. Iowa was the number two farm state, with sales of $28 billion, followed by Texas, Nebraska, and Minnesota; the top five states accounted for 37 percent of US farm sales of $373 billion. California had 69,000 farms in 2018, including 20,000 with more than $100,000 in sales.

California?s top 20 commodities were worth $43 billion or 86 percent of the state?s total farm sales, led by milk worth $6.4 billion, grapes worth $6.3 billion, and almonds worth $5.5 billion.

California exported farm commodities worth $21 billion or 42 percent of its total farm sales, led by almonds, whose exports were worth $4.5 billion, and pistachios, $1.7 billion. The three leading destinations, the EU, Canada, and China/Hong Kong, accounted for 42 percent of California?s farm exports.

US farm sales are divided 50-50 between crop and animal commodities. California is different: crops were worth $38 billion or 77 percent of the state?s farm sales, led by $21.8 billion worth of fruits and nuts, $7.9 billion worth of vegetables and melons, $6.2 billion worth of nursery, floriculture and other horticultural specialty crops, making FVH commodities worth $36 billion 72 percent of the state?s farm sales and 94 percent of the state?s crop sales.

The leading fruits by value were grapes worth $6.2 billion in 2018, strawberries worth $2.3 billion, and oranges worth $1.1 billion. Lemons were worth $682 million; avocados $383 million; peaches $345 million; raspberries $331 million; and peaches $304 million. The acreage of grapes rose from 810,000 to 863,000 between 2009 and 2018, while strawberry acreage fell from 39,800 to 35,800 and orange acreage fell from 186,000 to 147,000.

The leading vegetables were lettuce worth $1.8 billion, broccoli $679 worth million, and carrots worth $664 million. Garlic was worth $453 million; celery $425 million; cauliflower $455 million; and spinach $302 million. The acreage of leaf and romaine lettuce rose between 2009 and 2018 while the acreage of head lettuce fell from 105,000 to 82,000. Broccoli acreage fell from 118,000 to 104,000, and carrot acreage was stable at about 64,000 acres.

Milk worth $6.4 billion and cattle worth $3.2 billion accounted for 82 percent of the $11.7 billion in animal commodities sold in 2018. California had 1.7 million milk cows that produced an average 23,300 pounds of milk per cow in 2018; farmers received almost $16 per hundredweight of milk in 2018, down from a peak $22 in 2014. California had 5.2 million cattle at the beginning of 2018, added 1.9 million calves during the year, and ended the year with 5.2 million cattle as cattle and calves were shipped out of state or slaughtered.

The leading counties by farm sales were Fresno with sales of $7.9 billion in 2018, Kern with $7.5 billion, and Tulare with $7.2 billion; these three counties accounted for 44 percent of the state?s farm sales. The 15 counties with farm sales of $1 billion or more accounted for over 90 percent of the state?s farm sales.

California organic farm sales were $10 billion in 2018, 40 percent of the US total of $25 billion. Kern county led the state in organic farm sales with $782 million, followed by Monterey, $480 million, and Fresno, $299 million.

2020. Estimates of losses in California farm revenue due to Covid-19 ranged widely. One study projected a loss of $2 billion in dairy revenues, $1.7 billion to grape revenues, and $500 million to flowers and nurseries.

California is expected to produce a record three million pounds of almonds in 2020, about 2,400 pounds per acre from 1.2 million bearing acres.

California expects a record 75 million pounds of blueberries in 2020, but prices were down due to the reduced consumer demand and imports from Mexico. One grower complained that it was hard to break even with grower prices of $2.50 a pound and picking costs of $0.90 a pound. Mechanical harvesters cost $300,000 or more, but some growers are reluctant to use them because they can also remove unripe berries.

Almost 30 percent of the state?s raisin grapes were harvested mechanically in 2019, double the 16 percent of 2013. The most common mechanical harvest method, used on 19 percent of raisin grape acreage, was continuous tray, with the grapes knocked from the bunches unto a paper tray that lays between rows where they dry into raisins. Second, and used on nine percent of the acreage, was dried on the vine (DOV), with an overhead trellis forming a canopy over the rows and a grape harvester passing underneath to knock the raisins onto a conveyor belt for transport to gondolas and bins.