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Voice: Farming a huge asset to Imperial County and California

February 14, 2002

In your "Voice of the People" section of the Imperial Valley Press, I have been reading numerous letters concerning the "evils" of agriculture in Imperial County.

I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on what farmers do for California and Imperial County.

Less than 1 percent of the state's 34 million residents are farmers and ranchers, compared to 1.8 percent of the total U.S. population. California agriculture is a renewable economic resource, creating income that is replenished every year.

Agriculture supports 1.1 million jobs, nearly 8 percent of all jobs in the state. In the Central Valley, for example, agriculture supports 30 percent of all jobs. California agriculture and related industries directly account for 7 percent of the gross state product. In Imperial County, agriculture accounts for approximately 24,000 direct and indirect jobs.

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In Imperial County, the value of agricultural production in 2000 was $919.6 million. Of 58 counties in the state, this production value ranks Imperial County 11th. Not too bad!

The top five crops, by value, in Imperial County for the year 2000 were: cattle, $158.6 million; alfalfa, $121.5 million; lettuce, $78.9 million; carrots, $55.7 million; and sugar beets, $45 million.

Overall, California farms, which average 318 acres, are actually smaller than the national average of 434 acres. More than 60 percent of the state's farms are less than 50 acres and another 18 percent are less than 180 acres in size.

Family farming is prevalent in California. More than 97 percent of California farms are family farms or partnerships. More than 6 percent of the state's farms are corporations, but more than 80 percent of those are family-owned corporations. Only 3 percent of California farm income is derived from government crop subsidies.

The state's 87,500 farms cover roughly one-third of the state's total land area. Nearly two-thirds is range land and one-third is cropland. California ranks fifth in the nation in farm numbers, but California farms, including farms in Imperial County, produce more than half the nation's fruits, vegetables and nuts from just 3 percent of the nation's farmland.

In 2000, California agriculture generated $7.6 billion in agricultural exports. This was tops in the nation. Leading the list of commodities exported were almonds, wine, cotton (some from Imperial County), tables grapes, milk and cream. Top export markets were Canada, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

In summary, California and specifically Imperial County agriculture does a lot for the county, state and nation. Agriculture creates jobs, one in eight statewide, even more in Imperial County. Agriculture is a renewable resource, creating income for the state and Imperial County. Farmers are very efficient. They grow more food and fiber on less ground using minimum amounts of natural resources.

Agriculture in Imperial County contributes positively to everybody's way of life.

STEVEN A. PASTOR

Executive director

Imperial County Farm Bureau

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