STORY FROM SLATE 2013
California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts, including 99 percent of artichokes…
California, where cool coastal fog is perfect for growing standard broccoli, currently produces more than 90 percent of the broccoli grown in the United States.
If California were to disappear, what would the American diet be like?
California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on). Some of this is due to climate and soil. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre. Lemon yields in California, for example, are more than 50 percent higher than in Arizona. California spinach yield per acre is 60 percent higher than the national average. Without California, supply of all these products in the United States and abroad would dip, and in the first few years, a few might be nearly impossible to find.
CURRENT STORY BELOW
California Could Cut Off Water From Thousands Of Farmers In Historic Drought
Extreme drought conditions worsened by climate change have left the state with too little water to meet the demand.
FROM MOTHER JONES STORY FROM 2015
But all three of its main veggie growing regions—the Imperial Valley, the Central Valley, and the Salinas Valley—face serious short- and long-term water challenges. As I recently argued in a New York Times debate, it’s time to “de-Californify” the nation’s supply of fruits and vegetable supply, to make it more diversified, resilient, and ready for a changing climate.
Not only is California gripped in its worst drought in at least 1,200 years, but climate models and the fossil record suggest that its 21st-century precipitation levels could be significantly lower than the 20th-century norm, when California emerged as a fruit-and-vegetable behemoth.
What I’m eyeing are those cotton acres on the water-rich right side of the map—the Mississippi Delta states Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Louisiana, along with the Carolinas, Alabama, and Georgia to the east. According to the USDA, mid-Southern and Southeastern states planted more than 4 million acres of cotton in 2014. This is what’s left of the old—and let’s face it, infamous—Cotton Belt that stocked the globe’s textile factories during the 19th-century boom that delivered the Industrial Revolution (a story told in Sven Beckert’s fantastic 2014 book Empire of Cotton).
Agriculture is a significant sector in California’s economy, producing nearly $50 billion in revenue in 2018. There are more than 400 commodity crops grown across California, including a significant portion of all fruits, vegetables, and nuts for the United States. In 2017, there were 77,100 unique farms and ranches in the state, operating across 25.3 million acres of land.
Main article: Almonds in California
Almonds were the state’s third most valuable agricultural product in 2016, accounting for $5.2 billion (about 11%) of agricultural output. They are the state’s most valuable export crop. Farmers exported $4.5 billion worth to foreign countries in 2016, about 22% of the state’s total agricultural exports. The majority of these exports went to the European Union, China and India.
California farms produce 90% of all U.S.-grown avocados, with the great majority being Hass variety. In 2018, the state grew 300 million pounds. Drought and heat can significantly reduce the harvest in some years.
Fish and shellfish
Relative to traditional farming, aquaculture is a small part of California’s agricultural economy, generating only $175 million in 2014. Oysters, abalone, mussels, channel catfish, rainbow trout, and salmon are farmed commercially.
Further information: Cannabis in California
California growers produce 14 million pounds of marijuana annually. 80% or more of this crop is illegally exported from the state. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife destroys hundreds of thousands of illegally grown marijuana plants every year from public lands. The Emerald Triangle region in Northern California is a major marijuana production area. Legal marijuana production in California accounted for $3.1 billion in sales in 2019.
California’s production is dominated by short- and medium-grain japonica varieties, including cultivars developed for the local climate such as Calrose, which makes up as much as 85% of the state’s crop.
Main article: Walnuts in California
California walnuts account for nearly all the walnuts grown in the United States. In 2017, walnut production was the seventh most valuable agricultural commodity in California, valued at $1.59 billion in cash receipts.
Main article: California wine