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CHAPTER 2 Cross Sections of a Diverse Agriculture: Profiles of California’s Agricultural Production Regions and Principal Commodities Warren E. Johnston Warren Johnston is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis. alifornia agriculture defies simple, accurate generalizations. This chapter gives the reader two of many possible cross-sectional views of the state’s agriculture to portray the diversity and complexity which make simple descriptions impossible. California’s agriculture has always been sufficiently different from farming (or ranching) and other related activities found elsewhere in the United States, or in the world for that matter, to befuddle visitors and the uninformed. When discussing farming with visitors from the other 49 states, and places even more afield, my father, a life-long Yolo County farmer, always proudly stated, “Anything that can grow anywhere, can grow somewhere in California!” He was right, of course. The state’s agriculture, founded on self-sufficiency goals of early Alta California missions, developed in less than two centuries from a predominantly livestock grazing economy, providing wealth to large, Rancho land holdings from the sale of hide and tallow products in the early 1800s, to today’s agriculture which includes highly capitalized, intensively managed firms as well as a large number of “small” and part-time farming operations. 1 Today’s agricultural bounty consists of hundreds of commercial agricultural commodities and products sold in every conceivable form at markets ranging from local roadside stands and farmers’ markets to distant markets around the world. 1 See McCalla and Johnston for a stylized history of California agriculture from 1769 to the present. Also see Adams. C
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Cross Sections of a Diverse Agriculture 30 The challenge to California farmers and ranchers has always been to match available, and often limited, physical, human, financial, and managerial resources to produce and market alternative outputs chosen from a long and constantly evolving set of potential agricultural commodities and value-added products. Investment and management decisions often involve the integration of production with other economic activities. The highest and best use of resources available to California’s agricultural decision makers requires frequent re-examination of the criteria of the numerous possible uses that are legally permissible, physically possible, financially feasible, and maximally productive. In the dynamic setting of California agriculture, changes are frequent, and often dramatic, as producers and marketers recurrently assess alternatives and make decisions that change important features of the state’s agricultural sector. A half century ago, University of California Dean of Agriculture Claude B.
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