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California - Agriculture

California California, by some measures America's most urbanized state, is at the same time its most agricultural state in terms of total farm income. In 1988, the market value of agricultural products sold in California was $16.6 billion. California's agriculture, although typified by its many specialty products, is, in fact, broadly based, thanks to the variety of climatic regions and the market demand of its own large population.

Many of the specialty crops are sensitive to variations in climate or soil type. The Coastal Range valleys that open onto the Pacific are frequently foggy and have moderate temperatures. Vegetables such as artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, and brussels sprouts grow well under such conditions. The varietal grapes that people often feel produce the best of American wines need a mild, sunny climate such as that found in the inland Coastal Range valleys around San Francisco. The grapes of the San Joaquin Valley and of southern California, where summer temperatures are much higher, are used for table grapes, raisins, and for what some wine drinkers consider less distinguished wines. Most flowers grown for seed in the United States are planted in the Lompoc Valley west of Santa Barbara. Navel oranges and lemons are grown almost exclusively along the coast and the interior surrounding the Los Angeles Basin.

The importance of many specialty crops in California does much to explain why the state's farmers have had such success in penetrating the markets of the distant East. These crops can be grown, or at least grown on a large scale, in only a few parts of the country. Most require long growing seasons. Thus, there is no local competition in the demand areas. Southern California, especially the Imperial Valley, is also able to provide vegetable crops during the winter season, when competition is minimal and sale prices are at a maximum.

Although California produces many agricultural products, local areas tend to specialize in the growth of one or a few crops, and some of California's specialty crops are grown by only a handful of farmers. In the San Joaquin Valley, some landholdings extend over many thousands of hectares.

California's agriculture has created a massive demand for water across much of the state. Nearly all of the state's cotton, sugar beets, vegetables, rice, fruits, flowers, and nuts are grown on irrigated farmland. California has more farmland irrigated than any other U.S. state, about 3.5 million hectares, and the state's farmers use more than one-fourth of all the irrigation water used in the country. On the average, irrigated land in the state receives about 1 meter of "artificial" water annually.

Crop selection at a location depends on water availability as well as soils, drainage, terrain, and growing season. But the potential for irrigation is usually critical. A transect across the San Joaquin Valley finds livestock grazing in the Sierra foothills; dry farming for grains in the flatter, but still too high for irrigation, land below; irrigated fruit trees and vine crops in the better drained soils near the valley floor; and irrigated field crops such as cotton and vegetables on the flat valley floor.

Some 70 percent of the state's precipitation falls in the northern mountains and valleys and in the Sierra Nevada, where few farms or urban places exist, whereas 80 percent of the water for irrigation is used in the drier south. Of the state's major farming regions, only areas north of San Francisco and a few coastal valleys to the south receive as much as 50 centimeters of precipitation in an average year.

Farms are the principal users of water, but it was the cities that initiated the development of the state's tremendous water movement complex. At the beginning of the 20th century, Los Angeles outgrew its local groundwater supplies and looked for a supplementary source in the Owens Valley, east of the Sierra Nevada and some 300 kilometers north of the city. By 1913, the

Los Angeles Aqueduct was carrying water to Los Angeles. This aqueduct still provides half the city's needs. In 1928, Los Angeles and 10 other southern California cities formed the Metropolitan Water District to develop an adequate water supply for their area. Today, the Metropolitan Water District serves six counties, over 130 cities, and half of California's population.

Perhaps the most spectacular episode in the state's water history occurred in 1905 in the Imperial Valley. In 1901, private groups constructed canals to carry water from the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley; the result was an immediate agricultural land boom. Then, in February 1905, the Colorado River flooded, broke out of its channels, and flowed into the irrigation ditches. Before a massive effort returned the river to its channel in the fall of 1906, 1,100 square kilometers of the valley had been filled by the Salton Sea, a body that still exists, its size maintained by the ongoing drainage from irrigated farmland in the valley.

In the 1940s, the federal Bureau of Reclamation began the Central Valley project to improve the local availability of irrigation waters in the Central Valley. Today, water removed from the Sacramento River by the Delta-Mendota Canal flows southward along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley to Mendota, where it is put into the San Joaquin River. Thus, most of the normal flow of the San Joaquin River can be used for irrigation in the southern part of the valley, the state's leading agricultural region.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:01 ZULU