The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently released summarized reports for the 2017 Census of Agriculture, focusing on state and county information. The California State and County Profiles break down the vast amount of data collected through the census and provides a more individualized look at American agriculture. Overall, California producers are responsible for 12 percent of all U.S. agriculture sales, with crops making up 74 percent of total sales and livestock and poultry product sales accounting for 26 percent.
The overwhelming majority of farming operations in California appear to remain a family affair, with 93 percent being classified as family farms. The number of farms has been steadily declining over the past 20 years, with nearly 88,000 in 1997 and just 70,521 in 2017. Average farm size has remained relatively stable during that same period, with the latest average being 348 acres. Only five percent of California farms are producing organically, with 11 percent of total farms selling directly to consumers.
California remains the number one state in terms of market value for vegetables, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, tree nuts, berries, milk from cows, other crops and hay, as well as nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod. Forage crops made up the majority of farming acreage in California, closely followed by almonds and harvested vegetables, all being grown on more than a million acres each. The census also measured nearly one million acres of grapes and just under 500,000 acres of rice.
The top five counties in the state as it relates to overall farming acres were Kern, Fresno, Monterey, Tulare, and Merced. Fresno County represented 13 percent of the state’s agricultural sales and was also the number one county for sales of fruits, tree nuts, berries, poultry and eggs, and cattle and calves. Kern and Monterey counties each accounted for nine percent of agricultural sales, with Monterey County demonstrating a 38 percent increase in the market value of products sold compared to 2012.
Other highlights of the 2017 Census of Agriculture include the rising cost of labor in California. Labor expenses were shown to increase nearly 20 percent from 2012, costing approximately $7 billion in 2017 and comprising close to 20 percent of overall farm production expenses. The average market value per farm for land and buildings also increased by nearly 75 percent over the previous five years.