Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

News stories

Will California remain leader in U.S. agricultural production?

With a value of $6.1 billion, California accounted for over half of U.S. fresh vegetable production in 2018. Photo by Shermain Hardesty,
New book shows how California has led the nation in farm sales since 1948 and explores future challenges

"California Agriculture: Dimensions and Issues" by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics details the past, present and future of many of California's major agricultural commodities, including grapes, tree fruits and nuts, vegetable crops, dairy, livestock, nursery and floral production, and cannabis. The new 18-chapter book, written by agricultural economists at UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside, addresses issues such as labor, water, climate and trade that affect all of California agriculture. 

"California agriculture overcame many obstacles to become the nation's number one farm state. Leading agricultural economists are generally optimistic that California agriculture will continue to thrive in the 21st century, despite continuing large challenges," said Philip Martin, UC Davis emeritus professor of agricultural and resource economics, who is co-editor of the new publication. 

For over 70 years, California has led the nation in farm sales due to its specialization in high-value commodities such as fruits, nuts, vegetables and other horticultural crops. The book uses the most recent Census of Agriculture data to show that, of the $64 billion of these crops produced in the U.S. in 2017, California produced nearly half by value ($31 billion).

In 1879 wheat and barley occupied over 75% of the state’s cropland. The types of crops grown in California have changed considerably over the years.

More than 44 percent of California's $50 billion in farm sales in 2017 were fruits and nuts, with 17 percent of sales from vegetables and melons, and 14 percent from nursery and other horticultural specialties crops. Many of these high-value specialty crops are also very labor-intensive and face challenges from increased cost and decreased availability of agricultural labor. The book discusses how California growers effectively responded to these labor challenges by adopting labor-saving mechanization. California remains competitive with producers elsewhere by relying on superior plant varieties, integrated pest management, and improved irrigation methods that increase both the quantity and quality of California agricultural commodities.

Water, climate and trade pose challenges and opportunities for California agriculture. In the last decade, water scarcity and decreased water quality, along with regulations to address these issues like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, have prompted farmers to use scarce water to irrigate more valuable crops, as with the switch from cotton to almonds. Increased regulations and the increasing scarcity of water affect high-value specialty crops as well as the dairy and livestock industries that accounted for 24% of California farm sales in 2017.

Nut crops are three of California’s top five agricultural exports. In 2017, almonds were California’s largest agricultural export commodity by value at $4.5 billion. Photo by Brittney Goodrich

Climate variability, including drought and heat stress, affects farmworker welfare, crop yields and dairy productivity. Retaliatory tariffs resulting from the 2018 trade war reduced U.S. agricultural exports to China by close to $14.4 billion per year, as exports of dairy, livestock and specialty crops fell.

California agriculture has a rich history of overcoming challenges by pursuing innovative research, adopting new technologies, and adapting to changing conditions. Learning how California agriculture has succeeded in the past suggests that the state can maintain its dominant role as an agricultural producer in the future.

Learn more about several of the major California agricultural commodities and the issues and opportunities they face in this new, second edition of California Agriculture: Dimensions and Issues. Read the book for free online as part of the Giannini Foundation's Information Series (20-01) at https://giannini.ucop.edu/publications/cal-ag-book/. A paperback copy of the 414-page book can be ordered for $55 at http://bit.ly/CalAgBook2ndEd.

The Giannini Foundation was founded in 1930 from a grant made by the Bancitaly Corporation (later renamed Bank of America) to the University of California. Its mission is to promote and support research and outreach activities in agricultural economics and rural development to benefit the agricultural industry, policymakers, and society at large. Giannini members include University of California faculty and Cooperative Extension Specialists in agricultural and resource economics. Learn more about the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at https://giannini.ucop.edu.

Posted on Friday, March 5, 2021 at 1:25 PM
  • Author: Ria DeBiase, Communications Director, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

UCCE nutrition educators teach farmworker families about healthy eating

UC ANR partners with state and local organizations to improve urban communities. This story is one in a series about the impact of these partnerships. 

The Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development (FIELD), founded by Cesar Chavez in 1978, is dedicated to strengthening communities and the lives of farmworkers and immigrants in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

In Kern County, they are partnering with UC Cooperative Extension's CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program to ensure families have the knowledge and skills they need to buy and prepare food that will help prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and prevent obesity.

Each year, UCCE nutrition education supervisor Beatriz Rojas and UCCE nutrition education specialist Bea Ramirez present students in the program with eight free lessons on nutrition, physical activity and healthy living. Beginning in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, participants attended classes online, and the Kern County CalFresh Healthy Living, UC staff adapted their classes to an online platform.

FIELD requested nutrition classes for their 32 adult students during the summer session.

“We provided the students with lesson packets and followed up with one-on-one calls to review each lesson,” Rojas said. “The participants received vital information on how to keep themselves and their families fit and healthy, save money at the grocery store, make healthy food choices and prepare tasty meals.”

In one of the phone calls, a participant mentioned that she started to incorporate 30 to 40 minutes of stationary bike riding in her daily routine and started her family on this activity as well.

“Ever since I started the nutrition class, it has taught me how to read the nutrition facts label when I go to the store, also how to choose the right oil, meat and dairy,” the student said. “My family and I do a lot more physical activity at home and we eat healthier.”

The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and how to support programs in your area, visit the UC Youth, Families and Communities program website.

Adding green vegetables to quesadillas is a way to add nutrition to traditional staples.
Posted on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 9:23 AM
Tags: Beatriz Rojas (1), farmworkers (10), nutrition (203)
Focus Area Tags: Food

Protect yourself, your family and your community from COVID-19

At UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, we make recommendations based on science. We are now joining with many organizations to present factual information about the COVID-19 vaccines to help people make informed decisions about being vaccinated.

President Drake vaccinates an individual in the Bay Area's Mission District.

Below are facts and resources about COVID-19.

Myths and Facts (UC Davis)

CDC Vaccine Guidance

Fact Check: Are there microchips in vaccines? No.

Fact Check: Is there a sterility risk? No.

Fact Check: Are there fetal cells in vaccines? No.

Fact Check: Were vaccines developed too fast to be safe? No.

Join these famous people in being vaccinated:

  • President Joe Biden
  • Vice President Kamala Harris
  • Former President George Bush
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence
  • Journalist Stephanie Elam
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres
  • UC President Michael Drake
  • Celebrity Martha Stewart

More on why vaccination is safe and important:

  • Sadly, Jan. 21, 2021 was the day when the COVID death toll in the U.S. reached, and then exceeded, the 405,399 Americans who died in World War II. On Feb. 22, deaths in the U.S. due to COVID-19 passed 500,000.
  • While many are concerned about the vaccines, even back in December, communities were growing in confidence that the vaccine is safe. By December 2020, numbers intending to get the vaccine had already grown to above 60%. (Pew Research December 2020)
  • Centers for Disease Control: How to Protect Yourself and Others
  • California Department of Public Health Covid guidance (CDPH
  • Make vaccination appointments, check your eligibility, or sign up for alerts at https://myturn.ca.gov/
  • For more links and resources, see COVID-19 Vaccines

View a video here in which UC President Michael Drake, a medical doctor, speaks on the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.

Posted on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 3:19 PM
Focus Area Tags: Family

UC partners with Gotham Greens to advance indoor agriculture

Gotham Greens is building a state-of-the-art greenhouse near UC Davis and partnering with UC ANR and UC Davis to advance research and innovation in indoor agriculture, greenhouse technology and urban agriculture. Photo courtesy of Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens, a pioneer in indoor agriculture operating high-tech greenhouses across the United States, is placing its latest state-of-the-art greenhouse near UC Davis.

“We are building a Controlled Environment Agriculture Consortium to support and advance the indoor farming industry, grow more fresh produce on less land and create new jobs for Californians,” said Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “Gotham Greens is an anchoring partner of this research and industry collaboration that we hope will spur innovation, create a new indoor farming workforce and support industry growth.”

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have entered into a partnership with Gotham Greens to advance research and innovation in the areas of indoor agriculture, advanced greenhouse technology and urban agriculture. The new greenhouse facility enables opportunities for Gotham Greens and the University of California system to collaborate on research and innovation focused on advancing the science, workforce, technology and profitability of indoor agriculture globally.

“We are proud to bring Gotham Greens to the West Coast and partner with one of the highest ranked agricultural research centers in the world to advance the entire agriculture system,” said Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO. “California is responsible for growing one-third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the nation's fruits, yet in recent years, issues surrounding drought, food safety and worker welfare have demonstrated the need for continued innovation. Gotham Greens offers consumers clean, safe and sustainably grown leafy greens, herbs and versatile, time-saving plant-based dressings, dips and cooking sauces.”

Located in Solano County, the first phase of Gotham Greens' 10-acre greenhouse facility is expected to open in 2021 and will enable the company to deliver fresh, greenhouse-grown leafy greens to more retailers, foodservice operators and consumers on the West Coast. The company operates one of the largest and most advanced networks of hydroponic greenhouses in North America, where the demand for indoor-grown produce continues to surge. Nearly a decade after launching the nation's first commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse, Gotham Greens continues to reimagine how and where fresh produce is grown across America. 

“We're excited about collaborating with Gotham Greens, which is a coveted employer for tomorrow's leaders in agriculture and engineering,” said Helene Dillard, UCD CAES dean. “This partnership will offer our students the chance to learn best practices from leading experts in indoor farming.”

The greenhouse will generate 60 full-time jobs and provide students in the University of California system with an opportunity to learn firsthand from the industry leader. Gotham Greens recently raised $87 million in new equity and debt capital, bringing the fast-growing company's total financing to $130 million and fueling its next phase of growth.

"We are delighted for Gotham Greens to join Solano County's thriving agricultural economy and help to usher in a new era in farming innovation, job creation and economic growth for the region,” said Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez.

Gotham Greens owns and operates greenhouses in New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland and Colorado. Its products are currently available in more than 40 U.S. states and 2,000 retail stores. 

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 10:39 AM
Focus Area Tags: Innovation

UC Climate Stewards take action to protect communities

UC ANR partners with state and local organizations to improve urban communities. This story is one in a series about the impact of these partnerships. 

One action Climate Stewards propose to save water in the desert is to replace turfgrass with native plants if the area is not used for recreation. Photo by Elizabeth Ogren Erickson

Water availability, food production and biodiversity are being affected by climate change. There are actions individuals can take to protect their communities. Climate Stewards is a new public education and service effort by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources designed to improve climate understanding and empower community-level stewardship.

The first group of certified UC Climate Stewards graduated in December from the 40-hour course taught by Cameron Barrows, UC Riverside research ecologist in the Center for Conservation Biology, at the UCR Palm Desert campus.

“I am already using what I learned!” said Elizabeth Ogren Erickson, who was one of 32 participants in the inaugural UC Climate Stewards course led by Barrows. “Two Coachella Valley organizations contacted me in December, requesting that I speak to their organizations virtually.” She is preparing a presentation that describes the climate crisis and offers some climate resilience solutions. 

The Climate Stewards course is delivered through a collective impact network – organizations with common goals, but with unique strengths and strong local connections. To reach a variety of audiences, the organizations tailor the course content and delivery to be culturally relevant and address local needs and priorities. Each participant completes a capstone project as part of the certification process.

Ogren Erickson and her husband Robert Erickson, who took the course with her, assessed landscaping in their neighborhood for their capstone project. Based on their findings, they have proposed landscape changes to their homeowners association. For example, to save water, they propose converting turfgrass areas that are not used for recreation to native plants.

“Did you know that one square foot of turfgrass, on average, requires 73 gallons of water per year, whereas one square foot of desert landscaping, on average, requires only 17.2 gallons of water per year?” she asked.

Hot spot in Coachella Valley

Cameron Barrows interviews Randy Buckmaster for the Climate Stewards Palm Springs windmill tour. Colin Barrows and Tracy Bartlett shoot video for the virtual field trip. Photo by Elizabeth Ogren Erikson

“The Coachella Valley is warming faster than the rest of the planet,” said Barrows, explaining local interest in the program. “The desert community is feeling the effects more rapidly than other places. Scientists say the average desert temperature increase is already above 4 degrees C. Only the arctic is warming faster.

Greg Ira, director of the UC California Naturalist Program, who oversees the new course, said, “The UC Climate Stewards certification course is a first step in a long-term project in which our partner organizations delivering the course will try to improve community resilience to climate change and ultimately measure that change.” 

To build their community's resilience to climate change, UC Climate Stewards are encouraged to engage in community-scale efforts, including volunteer service that draws on the knowledge and skills gained from the course. These may include conducting community education and outreach, participating in local adaptation planning efforts, facilitating community and participatory science projects, or addressing issues of environmental or climate justice.

During the course, participants read Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California written by Adina Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and Brendan Buhler. Rather than a reference text, the book is a collection of stories from diverse voices and shows how specific actions enhance the resilience of communities and ecosystems across California's distinct bioregions.

Together, UC Climate Stewards academic coordinator Sarah-Mae Nelson, Merenlender and Ira form the core UC ANR team who have partnered with local organizations, other UC experts and practitioners around the country to design and move the course forward.

“The program differs from many other climate education efforts because it goes beyond the science of climate change to address the social and emotional challenges climate change presents,” says Nelson. Participants also explore root causes and environmental justice issues. They learn to communicate about climate change and leverage community and state resources to advance collective solutions.

“There are components of the training that are gut-wrenching, like an assignment that relives a personal experience with climate extremes, such as flooding or landslides, and yet every segment of the training is important for each of us to learn, whether an elementary, middle school, high school, or adult education student,” Ogren Erickson said.

While the course was planned to include field trips, because it launched in October amid coronavirus restrictions, Barrows gave the students a tour of a local solar panel construction firm and wind energy site via video.

Measuring community resilience

Serving plant-based foods, sourcing locally and reducing food waste are among the criteria UC Climate Steward Tamara Hedges uses to evaluate restaurants. Photo courtesy of Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs.

Before teaching the UC Climate Stewards course, Barrows and one of his co-instructors, Tamara Hedges, the executive director of UC Riverside Palm Desert Center, conducted a baseline community resilience assessment.

The assessment tool – developed by the Community Resilience Assessment Organizations – examines 26 indicators of community resilience in four broad categories: basic needs, environment and natural systems, physical infrastructure and community connections and capacity. They will rank specific actions, for example, reducing food waste at restaurants. Like all Climate Stewards partners, the UC Riverside Palm Desert Center team will repeat the assessment every year to identify changes over time.  

To launch UC Climate Stewards, UC ANR collaborated with existing partner organizations from the California Naturalist certification course. To expand the program, they are seeking new partners from a wide range of organizations that have training capacity and an interest in addressing climate change at the community level. Current UC Climate Stewards partners include:

American River Conservancy

Coastal Training Program - National Estuarine Research Reserves

Columbia College

Community Environmental Council

Community Nature Connection

Conservation Society of California - Oakland Zoo

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Pasadena City College

Pepperwood Preserve

Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Riverside-Corona Resources Conservation District

Santa Clara County Parks

Sierra Streams Institute

Sonoma Ecology Center

UC Hopland Research and Extension Center

UC Riverside Palm Desert Center

USC Sea Grant

The UC Climate Stewards course is currently being offered online throughout California, but will shift to a hybrid “online and in-person” delivery format when appropriate. For more information about the UC Climate Stewards, and to find a course near you, visit http://calnat.ucanr.edu/cs.

Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 11:51 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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