Agriculture in California Industry Guide
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, over a third of the vegetables and around two-thirds of nuts and fruits grown in the United States come from California. By the year 2050, it’s expected that agriculture in California will increase by another 50 percent to feed a projected world population of nine billion.
This massive increase in global food demand and production will be supported through technological advancements in plant and animal genetic understanding as well as robotic agriculture equipment that result in a higher yield per acre and less dependence on manual labor. The days of dusty farmers on rusty tractors are as numbered as the times of horse teams pulling plows.
California owes much of its agriculture success to being a near-perfect location for raising livestock and growing crops. California is a large state with a diverse array of land and ecosystems that allow a wide variety of species to flourish. The combination of fertile, productive soil, a Mediterranean-like climate and access to irrigation water during growing seasons contributes to California being one of the world’s most productive agriculture regions.
Central California is the state’s prime agricultural area. The Great Central Valley of California is bounded by four mountain ranges on each direction that give the geographical central depression a unique, warm weather system and allow access to water from snow pack melt and ground aquifers. The Central Valley averages 50 miles wide, from east to west, and over 400 miles long from north to south. This totals around 20,000 square miles with the vast majority of its acres being exceptional farming land.
The California Department of Conservation classifies farmland into the following categories: grazing, unique, local important, statewide important and prime. This is based on the land’s ability to support crops and livestock. Unlike the remainder of California, the Central Valley has most of its soil deemed as high-capacity prime and statewide important lands.
This exceptional ground yields exceptional returns. Dairy is California’s leading agricultural industry in dollar value, followed by nut, fruit, vegetable, livestock and other products. Statistics from the California Department of Food and Agriculture show impressive ag returns for California’s top-ten commodities:
- Milk & Dairy — $6.3 billion
- Almonds — $5.3 billion
- Grapes — $5.0 billion
- Cattle & Calves — $ 3.4 billion
- Lettuce — $ 2.3 billion
- Strawberries — $1.9 billion
- Tomatoes — $1.7 billion
- Poultry & Eggs — $1.7 billion
- Walnuts — $1.0 billion
- Hay — $0.9 billion
These agricultural return figures account for direct product sales and do not include support and service income generated from the California ag industry. They include:
Goods and Supplies
- Farm machinery and equipment
- Fuel, service and repairs
- Electricity and other energy requirements
- Irrigation equipment
- Tools and office equipment
- Computers and software
- Feeds and supplements
- Animal handling and health products
- Distribution and sales support
- Irrigation design and installation
- Construction of buildings
- Laboratory support
- Banking and accounting
- Real estate and legal assistance
- Meat and poultry processors
- Cheese manufacturers
- Frozen food processors
- Dairy processors
- Marketing and promotion
- Packaging and shipping
- Wholesale and retail distribution
A clear link exists from the land to the end user, and it creates jobs where workers’ incomes parlay into all other streams of California’s economy. Ag workers buy homes, cars, consume their own products and even trickle money down to the also-massive California entertainment industry. It’s
Challenges and Solutions
Although California holds the world’s envy as a major agricultural power, producing this abundance of healthy, safe and affordable food in a sustainable manner certainly comes with challenges.
Taking care of the land, water and overall environment are paramount in ensuring California continues to be profitable and competitive in a ballooning global market. California ranchers and farmers understand they face unprecedented challenges as the 21st century unrolls. Sustainability is not just a phrase. It’s a reality in the California ag world. Entrepreneurial, innovative and resourceful people continue to accept the sustainability challenge and they see taking care of their land and environment presents risks. They also see the sustainability challenge provides opportunities.
Meeting the agriculture sustainability challenge is not easy. It’s a complex, pro-active process of analyzing what the real challenges are to sustainability and basing them on fact, not hypothecs, supposition or speculation. It’s through a thorough knowledge of what agricultural sustainability entails that broad goals are envisioned, specific objectives articulated and a strategic plan made to implement real long-term agricultural sustainability. Finding a solution to ag sustainability requires a strategic plan designed to meet visionary goals and objectives.
This is exactly what California Agricultural Vision is all about. It’s called “Ag Vision” for short.
Ag Vision is a solid effort to plan the future of California’s agriculture and ensure America’s leading food producer remains just that. Ag Vision is a combined effort of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the State Board of Food and Agriculture (State Board) in conjunction with the American Farmland Trust (AFT) and the Agricultural & Natural Resources Division of the University of California (ANRD-UC).
Ag Vision started in 2008 with a vision of what California’s agriculture industry would be in the year 2030. They based this vision on three main goals:
- Better Health and Well-Being — meeting the nutritional needs of California’s booming population
- A Healthier Planet — agricultural stewardship of California’s natural resources which food production depends
- Thriving Communities — recognizing food production drives California’s overall economic growth
Focusing on these broad goals is the building block of ensuring California remains sustainable as a profitable and competitive food producer for the local, national and international food markets. A prosperous, clean, healthy and permanently sustainable agricultural industry is vital to society’s stability, and California committed itself to leading the path in sustainable leadership.
By 2010, Ag Vision had the overwhelming support of government, research and production leaders with stakeholder interest in environment, labor, health, economic and the overall delivery of sustainable food systems. Out of their combined and ongoing commitment to California’s ag sustainability, the Ag Vision team implemented a two-pronged approach to finding solutions for sustainability challenges through effective strategies.
Understanding the Strategies
There were twelve separate strategies identified by Ag Vision in carrying out their sustainability plan. These included short-term and long-term strategies designed to achieve progress towards the three primary sustainability goals. They all contributed to a comprehensive sustainability approach. However, priority was set for the seven most critical challenges confronting agriculture in California:
- Public access to healthy food
- Regulatory improvement
- Water security
- Workforce and immigration reform
- Control of invasive species
- Access and protection in land and natural resources
- Environmental stewardship
Implementing the Strategies
Implementation of Ag Vision plans started immediately and remains ongoing. Ag Vision stakeholders recognize that most Californians take food for granted, and most households spend less than ten percent of their income on what they eat. Obesity and malnutrition are common in wealthy areas of California, and public awareness of access to healthy foods lacked. Likely, this is due to 90 percent of Californians being urban dwellers and simply not exposed to the agricultural industry except for what’s displayed on supermarket shelves.
Public education, awareness and support is a critical component for Ag Vision. California agriculture sustainability requires public support just as much as the public needs agriculture. To achieve public support, the visionaries behind Ag Vision realized they must be credible in public perception and committed to finding facts based on accurate information. Public decisions on the future of California’s ag industry must be made on facts, regardless of their political popularity. Additionally, their fact-finding process must take place in good faith and with open minds.
Ag Vision also committed to promoting ingenuity among the stakeholders and asked for solutions being offered with the best use of resources, not just applying money to the challenges. A quote from Winston Churchill was given to Ag Vision’s working committees, “Gentlemen (and ladies). We have run out of money. Now we have to think.”
California Agricultural Vision’s Strategies for Sustainability
More information on the strategies for sustainability is as follows:
- Improve Access to Safe, Healthy Food for All Californians
Ag Vision recognized that many Californians can’t afford to eat properly or can’t find a decent range of healthy foods in their neighborhoods. Many people lack the education and awareness of dietary guidelines set out in the USDA’s healthy food pyramid. Some simply ignore the basics of healthy eating. One in six Californians have chronic health issues, associated with poor diets and a massive market share of high-yield crops is under-consumed. This includes loss of market share for California fruit, nut, vegetable, grain, dairy and poultry producers.
Ag Vision also recognized that half of the four million Californians eligible for food stamps were not taking advantage of this income assistance. Over $3 billion in federal government funds were unclaimed. Further, a significant amount of healthy food grown in California was being wasted and discarded as it moves through the distribution system from farm to plate. Costly and unnecessary food recalls were also identified.
Actions endorsed to improve safe and healthy food access are to:
- Encourage wider use of food stamps.
- Hold government agencies accountable to ensure stamps are distributed.
- Decrease wasted food and increase contributions to food banks.
- Increase public awareness to promote healthy eating and access.
- Use of technology such as social media to spread information.
- Ease Regulation Burden While Maintaining Health, Safety and Environmental Standards
California is widely known as the most highly regulated state in America. Agricultural regulations are complex, cumbersome, bureaucratic restrictions that are often inconsistently administered, needlessly bothersome, conflicting, duplicative, inflexible and grossly uncoordinated.
Ag Vision was bold in criticizing California’s lawmakers and bureaucratic agents who stifle innovation rather than encourage creative thinking, technological development and free entrepreneurship. They courageously identified that California faces increasing global competition as each year passes and have an unfair disadvantage due to increasing state legislation.
Action endorsed to ease regulatory burden include:
- Evaluate all institution arrangements that oversee California agriculture.
- Focus on reduction of regulations while still fulfilling the regulatory intentions.
- Promote cost and time-effective innovation in achieving regulatory compliance.
- Hold lawmakers to higher accountability in public and industry protection.
- Endorse new technologies and promoting technological advancement rather than hindering.
- Securing Adequate Agricultural Water Supply
Ag Vision recognized that water is California’s agricultural lifeblood. They also recognized that water is a finite resource and that environmental factors are constantly threatening an adequate supply.
Climate change that includes global warming are recognized realities facing the California ag industry and includes drought, decreasing snowpack melt and diminishing ground aquifer levels. Urban expansion is increasing at an unprecedented rate and claiming a greater share of water resources. Water imports from other states are also restricted as these jurisdictions move to protect their own interests.
California growers measure their water and irrigation efficiency on a “crop per drop” basis. Water is an expensive commodity to purchase, distribute and replace. Forward-looking agriculturalists strive to get the highest yield per volume of water. They look to technology in making the best use of nature’s most precious resource.
Ag Vision recommended action be taken for securing long-term, sustainable water supply:
- Promote water-use efficiency.
- Identify opportunities to voluntarily transfer water between areas.
- Promote public education in responsible water usage.
- Protect lands containing water supplies and natural distribution features.
- Promote the use of technology for delivering and consuming wisely.
- Assuring a Strong Labor Force Through Fairness to Agricultural Workers and Employers
California ag heavily relies on manual labor despite the fast move toward technological reduction and replacement of workers. The remoteness of agricultural locations, seasonal employment, physical demands and competition from other labor-reliant industries like construction are challenges the California ag industry faces.
It’s no secret that thousands of California farm workers are immigrants having questionable legal status. They’re subject to targeted and random law enforcement. Illegal migrant labor is a two-headed coin for lawmakers and industry employers. Agricultural businesses must source labor as available and regulatory bodies find it difficult to exclude agriculture from blanket immigration laws.
Achieving legal status for immigrants is slow and inefficient, despite their ability to show stability through employment. An enforcement-only approach fails to address the labor needs of ag businesses and the security needs of immigrant workers who vitally contribute to California’s agriculture.
Labor instability is seen as a major obstacle to ag sustainability. Corrective action identified is:
- Reform of immigration laws pertaining to farm workers.
- Streamline the visa application process.
- Reduce threatening enforcement by deportment with an identify and assist approach.
- Educate immigrant ag workers in legal requirement.
- Increase use of technology to improve immigrant processing.
- Promote and encourage technology to reduce the need for manual labor.
- Effectively Detect, Exclude and Control Invasive Species
Invasive species (IS) of disease and pests continually threaten agricultural crops as well as native animals and plants. Ag Vision recognized that invasive species pose extreme costs to California agriculture’s necessity to detect, contain, exclude and eradicate insects, mites, parasites and carriers of disease.
Massive amounts of money are spent each year in California in controlling invasive species, but it’s estimated three to five times the cost would be incurred in crop loss if no efforts were made. Pre-emptive surveillance and strikes were the frontlines of invasive species control with most efforts made at the borders. In a post-9/11 world, more effort has been made by enforcement agencies to identify terror threats as opposed to IS security invaders.
Ag Vision recommended serious action be taken against invasive species by:
- Improving IS border detection through the use of high-technology.
- Encouraging technological advancements for identifying IS infected crops.
- Building advanced IS technological systems for eradicating invaders.
- Securing federal funding for IS technology research and development.
- Adopting Policies to Conserve Agricultural Land and Water Resources
Ag Vision identified the steady loss of agricultural land to urban development as one of the most serious threats to sustainability. California is semi-arid with rugged terrain that leaves only part of the state suitable for both farming and housing. Land supply is limited for both interests, and so are the resources to support them.
Since 1990, California lost 350,000 acres of ag land to urban building. Most of this occurred on the flat areas like the Central Valley floor and the West Coast regions that are suitable for high-yield crops rather than expansive, rough grazing terrain. It’s estimated if this growth rate continues at a rate of one acre consumed for every nine new residents, by 2050 California will give up two million acres of ag capacity.
Added to this permanent loss of ag land is the extended pressure on California’s already restrictive water supply. Aquifers are at their lowest levels ever recorded. Replacement water from the mountain snowpack is diminishing, and a multi-year drought has left reservoirs wanting. Water transfers from other states are also not dependable in the long run.
Ag Vision realizes that increasing California’s sustainable land and water supply is unachievable. The only recourse is to reduce consumption and make better use of available resources. This means stopping the productive land from development and being more creative with irrigation and crop needs.
Recommended actions by Ag Vision to conserve agricultural land and water supply are to:
- Ensure all stakeholders including regulatory bodies understand the magnitude of the problem and cooperatively work together in reduction.
- Take a long-term approach to land and water conservation.
- Have California state policy take conservation as their top priority.
- Reward innovative thinkers and innovators for contributions to conservation.
- Focus on developing new technology to make water distribution and crop consumption more efficient.
- Use technology to educate the public and build a conservation mindset.
- Expand Environmental Stewardship on Ranches and Farms
Over the past decades, California agriculture business owners continually worked to enhance their environment quality and reduce consumption of natural resources. These landowners and entrepreneurial investors are the biggest frontline stakeholders in Ag Vision’s strategic plan. They’re the people who will implement these actions.
These farms and ranches need passing on to the next generation of food producers. It’s imperative their lands be sustainable to keep producing healthy and safe crops that a continually growing population requires for survival. Therefore, survival of the agricultural industry is dependent on future generations.
Ag Vision recognizes the critical importance placed on environmental stewardship and the vital role technological advancements play in their support. This includes:
- Public and private partnerships for collectively solving the challenges of agricultural sustainability.
- Governments supporting the ag industry, not hindering it.
- Public education reflecting everyone’s involvement in stewardship.
- Market assistance in “branding” California ag produce as sustainable.
- Educate and training new ag workers.
- Develop high-technology advancements to help sustainable stewardship.
Without question, the future of sustainable agriculture in California lies in the hands of technology. It always has. One hundred years ago, horses pulled plows and cows were milked by hand. Technological advancements replaced horses with fossil-fueled tractors and milk-maids succumbed to electric milking machines. Technology now allows tractors controlled by GPS and software prescribing formulas for the highest crop yield.
Tomorrow, agricultural land stewards will replace manual labor with robots and drones that’ll work land and manage water far more efficiently than any old farmer could imagine. Technology is the key to sustainable agriculture in California and the future looks bright — with proper stewardship.
As the old farmer said, “They don’t make no more land, and they don’t make no more water, but they’re always making new tools.”
Buy Ag Equipment for Sale in California Today
New tools and agriculture equipment are constantly coming on the California market. Yet, they still require the same attention as old technology tools. Agriculture equipment will always require sales and service. To that, Quinn Company is a leader in providing advanced ag equipment for sale in California.
Our vision at Quinn Company is similar to the California Agricultural Vision’s Strategies for Sustainability. We’re in the ag business for the long haul, just as we’ve been for the past century.
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