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California agriculture: It’s worth the water

California agriculture: It’s worth the water

A great article from the LA Times regarding California’s agriculture and the water shortage…

Pundits here in drought-stricken California have become fond of proclaiming that farms consume 80% of the state’s water and generate only about 2% of its gross domestic product. “Why devote so much of our water to an industry that contributes so little fuel to our economic engine?” they ask.

Both of those figures are deceptive. It’s only possible to arrive at 80% by not accounting for the amount of water dedicated to environmental uses. (For example, the water in rivers that flows into the sea.) And the 2% figure grossly undersells the importance of food grown in California.

California’s economy is incredibly diverse, much like its topography, its climate and its population. That’s a significant benefit when you’re the eighth-largest economy in the world. And agriculture is a key part of that diversity.

Of course, many aggregate sectors constitute a larger share of our economy than agriculture. Finance, insurance and real estate tops the list at 21%. Professional services and government follow at 13% and 12%, respectively.

Beyond those sectors, we have a broad, flat grouping of several categories, each representing just a few percent of the state’s GDP. That’s a remarkably balanced profile that lends resilience and dynamism to our economy.

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Let’s look more closely at that data, though. Is agriculture really just 2.1%? As is so often the case with statistics, what’s not in that number is more significant than what is.

Take the “utilities” category, for instance. It includes power generated for farms and for processing and marketing crops once they’re harvested. The “real estate” piece includes sales and leasing of agricultural acreage and processing facilities. “Non-durable goods manufacturing” includes food and beverage processing. “Wholesale trade” and “retail trade” does not just mean the shopping mall; it includes the supermarket, the food court and the regional produce hub.

Food is central to California in more than just the nutritional sense.
Categories such as “transportation and warehousing” and “finance and insurance” are linked into every one of our 78,000 farms, each of which needs trucks, banks and insurance coverage to bring in the harvest.

“Accommodation and food services” not only runs on food but also is fond of promoting the fact that many of the most healthful and desirable foods and beverages grow on California farms and ranches. California, after all, helped start the farm-to-plate movement, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that agriculture is tied to the state’s identity from harvest (Cesar Chavez) to table (Alice Waters).

Granted, all economic sectors have ripple effects and multipliers. But unlike most other segments, California’s agricultural productivity and diversity are not readily duplicated elsewhere. Our soils and climate are what have made it possible for us to supply so much of our nation’s and the world’s food.

Food is central to California in more than just the nutritional sense. It contributes to nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives, an important point to keep in mind as we weigh what our water is worth during this drought, and the next one.

Karen Ross is California agriculture secretary. Daniel Sumner is a professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis.

Link to original article can be found here

Ventura County News: Crop values top $1.9 billion

Ventura County News: Crop values top $1.9 billion

From the Ventura County Star: The special news out of the 2012 Crop & Livestock Report that tracks Ventura County’s nearly $2 billion agriculture industry is that cilantro became a new member of the Top 10 highest value crops.

In a record year for the industry, cilantro, also known as Mexican or Chinese parsley, earned its first-ever spot on the list by generating $23 million in value in 2012, replacing greens such as chard and watercress. The crop’s value increased 30 percent from 2011.

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Total crop values for the year rose to $1.96 billion, a 1.6 percent uptick. Except for a slight dip in 2011, the industry has grown steadily from $1.5 billion five years ago. The report focuses on the gross values of crops, not the net return to growers.

“We’re just trying to show how things have changed for agriculture, and how that is likely going to always be the case,” Ventura County’s Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales said in presenting the report to the Board of Supervisors. “In 10 years, it will no doubt be different.”

The 2012 report tells a story about how the increasing values for some crops show that other local industries, such as real estate, are improving, and how changing consumer tastes drive what growers plant.

The rebound of nursery stock, the county’s fourth highest value crop in 2012, is likely due to improving real estate and new construction, Gonzales said, while a jump in kale shows consumers are accepting what traditionally has been a garnish but is now part of supermarket and restaurant salads.

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Cilantro, the county’s 10th most valuable crop, is another example of changing consumer tastes, Gonzales said.

George Boskovich, CEO of Boskovich Farms Inc. in Oxnard, said his family business was the state’s first commercial grower and marketer of cilantro when it began experimenting with planting coriander, another name for cilantro, in the 1970s. The business now grows cilantro on 2,000 acres.

“Our value-added cilantro pack is gaining in popularity mainly among our food service customers and will soon be offered to retail customers,” Boskovich said. “Cilantro goes well with our other products and has become an important consolidation product for our customers who want to do one-stop shopping year-round in Oxnard.”

Several of Ventura County’s 10 highest value crops traded places in 2012. Lemons, worth $202 million, took the No. 2 spot from raspberries as sales of the citrus fruit rose 15 percent even as 314 less acres were harvested. Avocados now rank sixth just ahead of tomatoes, positions that were reversed in 2011. And peppers and cut flowers traded places for the eighth and ninth spots, respectively.

Read the whole article here.