California agriculture is unique in the world.
Nowhere else in the world is more of the highest-quality food grown by the most-protected workers, using the latest advancements of conservation practices for the benefit of a nation.
California’s incredible amount of food production is made possible by irrigation. California’s Mediterranean climate provides tremendous opportunity for food production. While dry land farming dominated the State’s early days, making California a grain exporter in the late 19th century, it was the introduction of irrigation that made the abundance, variety, and value of farm products skyrocket.
California’s crop value in 2010 totaled $27.7 billion. Business activities on the farm accounted for spending of $19.7 billion and an additional $6.2 billion in employee wages. (USDA Economic Research Service)
Additionally, the value of farm products multiplies as it travels through the economy. Almond, walnut and pistachio exports account for approximately $2.7 billion in crop value, yet associated economic multipliers raise that figure to more than $11.5 billion. Export-based farm and port employment created by these three crops total more than 62,000 jobs, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Despite all of this most California farms are family owned and operated and few of the enterprises could be characterized as “corporate agribusinesses.” The majority of California farms are small, family-owned operations. Approximately 44 percent of the state’s farms had sales of less than $10,000. Those with sales in excess of $500,000 accounted for only 11 percent of the farms. The average California farm size is just 311 acres, compared with a national average of 418 acres. Irrigated farms in California average just 162 acres.
$3,820 in Your Pocket
American consumers benefit financially from irrigated agriculture. In the U.S., consumers pay just 6.2 percent of their disposable income on food and non-alcoholic beverages compared to 10.2 percent on average in 28 other high-income countries.
To the average American family this represents an additional $3,820 per year if they paid the same 10.2 percent of their disposable income for food as families do in other countries.
As consumers we have choices on where we spend our money. Efficient farming practices have helped keep food costs low while providing hundreds of healthful and affordable farm products at the grocery store. Lower food costs means money that would otherwise be spent to feed our families can instead be used to enrich our lives through recreation, music, philanthropy, and even ballet lessons.
Jobs and the Water Connection
When water supplies are cut the impact on farms and rural communities can be devastating.
In 2009 and 2010 farmers on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley had water supplies reduced due to environmental restrictions. Farmers in other parts of the state that did not suffer these cutbacks were able to plant their fields and make a profit.
A study by the University of California and the University of the Pacific showed a direct loss of 5,567 to 7,434 jobs and $287.7 million to $286.9 million in farm income due to water supply cuts. The number of acres fallowed ranged from 243,000 to 269,000, reducing economic output by $586.7 million to $796 million.
Water supply and employment are directly related, as shown in this chart (right) depicting Central Valley Project water allocations and unemployment figures in four San Joaquin Valley towns. When water supplies were cut in 2009 and 2010 unemployment figures rose to levels as high as 45 percent.