What is in this article?:
- Agriculture alive and well in California
- We farm, you eat
- U.S. agriculture continues to thrive in providing millions of consumers with safe and affordable food. Nowhere is this success more evident than in California.
- Consumers spend $547 billion for food originating on U.S. farms and ranches. Of each dollar spent on food, the farmer’s share is roughly 23 cents. The rest are for costs beyond the farm gate: wages and materials for production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution.
As 2012 winds down it is only natural to pause and reflect on the successes of the ag industry over the last year, and to optimistically embrace the coming new year with eager anticipation.
Two specific events stand out for 2012; the 50th anniversary in September of Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring; and the election defeat of Prop. 37, the GMO mandatory labeling initiative which would have been devastating for agriculture had it passed.
On the first point, I addressed Carson’s book in an earlier column this year and resurrect it here only for the purpose of pointing out the giant strides ag has made over the past 50 years. Briefly by way of example: consumer concerns are now addressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the federal Fungicide, Insecticide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was revised to provide new safety measures. FIFRA provides federal control of pesticide distribution, sale and usage; other enhancements entail a rigorous registration and re-registration process for each pesticide product, including more than 120 safety, environmental and health tests to determine possible effects on consumers, wildlife and the environment. And in California, the center of our nation’s diversified farming system, these protections are repeated and verified by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
In the nutshell, the crop protection industry is committed to serving growers and the consuming public safely and efficiently. For proof of this, one only has to consider that since the publication of Silent Spring there’s been a fervent dedication to research and development which serves as the core pillar of the crop protection industry. Statistics from the USDA Economic Research Service show that private investment in R&D for pesticide products has grown significantly, from $42 million in 1962 to $793 million in 2010.
Turning to the defeat of Prop. 37, it seems that California voters eventually realized over the months leading up to the Nov. 6 election, that the safeguards described above ensure that they already have the safest food in the world, that the measure was ill-conceived and poorly written and – spurred by opposing editorials from California’s major newspapers – did the right thing and struck it down.
There will be continuing efforts targeting other states in the future as labeling proponents intensify their campaign in the state of Washington, for example, but for the time being California is safe from the cumbersome and nonsensical rules that would have been imposed on food manufacturers, retailers, growers and grocers.
That said, U.S. agriculture continues to thrive in providing millions of consumers with safe and affordable food. And nowhere is this success more evident than in California, in which the Great Central Valley – 430 miles long and averaging 50 miles wide – provides a cornucopia of foodstuffs because it has some of the most fertile soils, and a rare Mediterranean climate that enjoys hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters that allow a long growing season of 225 to 300 days. It’s worth mentioning that the Sacramento Valley, part of the Great Central Valley, was the state’s first significant farming region.
Today, California produces more than 400 commodities. In the market for U.S.-grown foods, Americans buy many crops produced exclusively in California: almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisin grapes, kiwifruit, olives, clingstone peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates, sweet rice, raisins and walnuts.