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July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3

California Agriculture

California had 1.4 million bearing acres of almonds yielding an average 2,000 pounds an acre in 2022, 430,000 acres of pistachios yielding 2,000 pounds an acre, and 400,000 acres of walnuts yielding almost two tons an acre. Grower prices of tree nuts have been falling, to $1.40 a pound for almonds in 2022, $2.10 for pistachios, and $0.30 for walnuts. Each almond requires one to three gallons of water.

California had 42,000 acres of strawberries yielding an average 590 cwt per acre in 2022, 8,000 acres of blueberries yielding 81 cwt, and 7,000 acres of raspberries yielding 165 cwt. Grower prices were $1.10 a pound for strawberries, $3.20 a pound for blueberries, and $3.15 a pound for raspberries.

US blueberry consumption is rising rapidly as US production and imports expand. Over 70 percent of US fresh blueberries are imported, including 40 percent of blueberry imports from Peru, 25 percent from Mexico, and 15 percent from Chile.

California’s largest acreage fruit is grapes, including 575,000 acres of wine grapes, 135,000 acres of raisin grapes, and 120,000 acres of table grapes. Yields average 5.9 tons an acre for wine grapes, 7.5 tons for raisin grapes, 9.3 tons for table grapes.

Raisin acreage is declining faster than raisin production as growers retrofit vineyards with higher-yielding varieties of grapes that can be harvested mechanically. Acreage averaged about 140,000 in recent years, when shipments average 500 million pounds a year. The US is a net exporter of raisins, shipping 170 million pounds abroad and importing 40 million pounds.

California has 47,000 acres of avocados yielding an average 2.9 tons an acre, 36,000 acres of peaches yielding 13 tons an acre, 34,000 acres of cherries yielding 1.6 tons an acre, and 34,000 acres of olives yielding 2.1 tons an acre.

Greengo Seed developed high-stalk iceberg lettuce with heads at least two inches off the ground, making it easier for hand workers or machines to harvest the heads destined for bagged salads.

AppHarvest’s lender in June 2023 foreclosed on its 60-acre greenhouse in Richmond, KY, and may auction the $66 million facility. AppHarvest completed a $127 million sale-leaseback agreement with Mastronardi for its Berea, Kentucky farm in December 2022. AppHarvest went public in February 2021 and was once valued at almost $4 billion.

CEA firm Plenty opened a vertical farm in Compton, California in summer 2023 that has vertical towers to produce leafy greens; a third of employees were from Compton. However, other vertical farms went bankrupt or shut down, including AeroFarms in June 2023. Some estimates suggest that up to 10 acres of solar panels would be required to provide the electricity for one acre of vertical farming.

Vertical farms use less land and water to grow crops but require massive amounts of electricity, which is why some horizontal greenhouses tout land and water savings and use LED lights only to supplement sun light. CEA farms want to feed the world without frying the world by accelerating global warming, but outdoor farming has a 12,000 year history of using land, water, and sunlight to produce crops for human and animal food that CEA is finding it hard to improve on.

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