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California Drought: Crop Sectors

Fruit, tree nuts, and vegetables play a dominant role in California agriculture, and California producers account for a large share of U.S. production of many products in these categories. Nearly two-thirds of California’s agricultural crop value comes from fruit and tree nut production ($20.3 billion average for 2012-14) and about a quarter from commercial vegetables ($7.1 billion, excluding potatoes) (fig. 1). These commodities represent around 70 percent of total U.S. fruit and tree nut farm value and 55 percent of vegetable farm value.

Among field crops, California accounts for 10 percent of the value of U.S.-produced cotton.  California has typically accounted for about 30 percent of the value of annual U.S. rice production. Acreage planted to both these crops has declined since the onset of the drought.

This page contains the following sections:

Figure 1

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Fruit, Tree Nuts, Vegetables: Drought-Affected Crop Areas

Integral to California’s fruit, tree nuts, and vegetable sectors are the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast district, where drought conditions are at exceptional levels. These two production areas generate more than three-fourths of California’s fruit and tree nuts on a farm-value basis and almost 70 percent of vegetable farm value based on the California County Agricultural Commissioners’ Reports (March 2015).

  • The San Joaquin Valley district includes San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern Counties.
  • The Central Coast district includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Lake, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma Counties.
  • Most of these areas are irrigated—99 percent of orchard and berry acreage in the San Joaquin Valley and 94 percent in the Central Coast district. For vegetables, both these districts are virtually all irrigated.
  • The San Joaquin Valley is the largest fruit and nut producing district in the State, accounting for 65 percent of total fruit and nut crop value in 2013. Grapes, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, oranges, peaches, tangerines, and sweet cherries are the primary fruit and nut crops produced in the valley.
  • The San Joaquin Valley also produces one-third of California’s vegetables, which in 2013 amounted to a district total of $2.56 billion in gross farm value (based on County Agricultural Commissioners’ Reports, March 2015). It is the second-largest vegetable-producing district in California, next to the Central Coast Valley, which generated $3.60 billion in gross farm value in the same year.  
  • Ninety-two percent of harvested vegetable acreage in the Central Coast district is for the fresh market, according to USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, while acreage in the San Joaquin Valley is more equally divided between the fresh and processing markets (48 percent and 52 percent, respectively).

California: A Major Producer of Fruits, Tree Nuts, and Vegetables

  • The 2012 Census of Agriculture reports that 22 percent of all U.S. farms growing fruit (including berries), tree nuts, and vegetables are in California, accounting for 43 percent of the total acreage for the sector.
  • Most of this acreage is under irrigation—specifically, 98 percent of the State’s land in orchards, 100 percent of the land in berries, and 100 percent of the land planted to vegetables.
  • California ranks No. 1 in U.S. fruit production, growing an overwhelming majority of the Nation’s grapes, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, avocados, raspberries, kiwifruit, olives, dates, and figs (table 1).
  • California’s tree nut production is the Nation’s largest, supplying virtually all U.S. almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
  • California ranks second to Florida in citrus production but is the major supplier of citrus fruit for the fresh market. A vast majority of citrus acreage in the State is devoted to oranges. California also produces over 90 percent of U.S. lemons and more than 50 percent of U.S. tangerines.
  • Vegetable production (including melons) occurs throughout the United States, with the largest acreage in California, accounting for 47 percent of the harvested area in 2014. During this period, California’s share of total U.S. production for fresh-market and processed vegetables accounted for 60 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Top commodities produced in the State in 2014 in terms of volume were broccoli, carrots, celery, lettuce, and tomatoes (table 2).
  • California is also the Nation’s largest producer of melons, accounting for about one-third of annual U.S. volume. More than half of California-grown melons are cantaloupes, of which the State is the largest U.S. producer, along with honeydew melons. Watermelons are the most predominantly grown melon in the United States, and California is the third-largest producer, after Florida and Georgia.

Fruit and Tree Nuts: U.S. and California Production Updates

For a number of citrus and noncitrus crops, U.S. production volumes for 2014 are down from 2011-13 average levels, largely driven by reduced California production (table 1). For most of these crops, California is the main producer.  Although most of California’s fruit and tree nut growing regions remain under extreme drought conditions, production volume for some of the State’s fruit and nut crops in 2014 still exceeded the previous 3-year average volumes, including tangerine/mandarin, blueberry, nectarine, raspberry, strawberry, honeydew, pistachio, and walnut production. While drought remains a serious concern among California growers, other weather events, such as a warm winter and spring hail storms in the Western United States and an extremely cold winter and spring frosts in the Eastern half of the country, have also contributed to lower production of certain fruit and tree nuts in 2014. Additionally, smaller crops in other major producing States contributed to the overall production decline, particularly for oranges, grapes, peaches, and pears. 

  • As of March 2015, California’s 2015 lemon production forecast was up 5 percent from the previous season, reaching 800,000 tons. For the 2015 season, California is expected to produce 91 percent of the domestic lemon crop, with Arizona producing the remainder. Fresh lemon grower prices have been exceptionally high during 2014 and are holding strong through the beginning of the 2015 season, due to tight early supplies and excellent quality.
  • California's all-orange production is estimated at 2.0 million tons in 2015, unchanged from last year. The navel crop is estimated up 3 percent from last year but still 6 percent below 2013. The Valencia orange crop is forecast down 9 percent year over year, due to lower acreage and less fruit per tree. Fresh orange prices started the marketing year strong but are seasonally declining as more fruit reaches market.
  • USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) did not report a preliminary 2014 production estimate for California avocados (for the 2014/15 marketing period). However, the California Avocado Commission (CAC) indicated that the State’s avocado crop for 2014/15 will be about 10 percent larger than the previous season. On the basis of this expected growth rate and NASS’s 2013 production estimate of 149,000 tons, ERS projects 2014 production in California between 163,000 and 164,000 tons. This is below the previous 3-year average, which includes a bumper crop of 231,500 tons in 2011. California produces around 85 percent of U.S. avocados each year, but imports also play a major role in meeting U.S. avocado demand, the bulk of which comes from Mexico and is available all year round. The California avocado crop in 2014/15 is reported to be of excellent quality, and warm weather this winter has gotten supplies off to an earlier start. Given the anticipated increase in production in California and forecast increased imports from Mexico, growing demand for avocados in the United States will continue to be met with abundant supplies in 2014/15.
  • The preliminary estimate for 2014 U.S. grape production (for the 2014/15 marketing season) is at 7.8 million tons, 10 percent below 2013’s record. California accounts for 89 percent of this volume, with crop size down 12 percent from last year's record and 3 percent below the average 2011-13 crop. The U.S. season-average grower price for grapes is estimated at $742/ton, up from $712 in 2013/14. Wine-, table-, and raisin-type grapes in California declined in volume in 2014/15 from the previous year. Drought remains a major concern among growers, and hail in the spring affected blooms in some vineyards. Smaller crops were also reported in other States, including New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  
  • The preliminary estimate for U.S. peach production in 2014 shows a 6-percent decline from 2013 and 14 percent below the previous 3-year average, mainly due to lower production in California, the dominant supplier. Fruit set was patchy in California after a long and early bloom and the ongoing drought. Extreme winter weather and spring frosts hampered 2014 production in several other peach-growing States. In the fresh market, peach grower prices averaged 23 percent higher in 2014 than the previous year. Fresh peaches consumed in the United States are mostly from domestic production with less than 10 percent imported, filling in during the off-season.  
  • A combination of reduced U.S. melon acreage and lower yields, particularly for watermelons and cantaloupes, lowered overall production of melons in 2014 by 13 percent from the previous year. Watermelon production was down in most major producing States, including California. Watermelon imports, mostly from Mexico, were a record high, totaling 1.44 billion pounds. Five of the nine States for which NASS reports annual cantaloupe production had output declines in 2014; this includes leading States—California, Indiana, and South Carolina. U.S. cantaloupe production declined 18 percent below the previous year and was the lowest since 1984. 
  • The 2014 California almond crop was anticipated to be the largest on record, but once harvest was completed, the revised production estimate of 1.87 billion pounds showed a 7-percent decline from 2013 but was above the previous 5-year production average of 1.80 billion pounds. Despite increased bearing acreage, the decline in production can be partially attributed to a 9-percent decline in yield per acre this season. Nuts per tree across California have declined slightly each season since 2011. With the lower production this season, season-average grower prices were up 9 percent from the previous season, pushing up the value of utilized production to a record $6.46 billion.
Table 1. Fruit and tree nuts: U.S. and California production volume, selected crops
 U.S. volumeCalifornia volumeCalifornia share
CommodityAverage 2011-132014ChangeAverage 2011-132014Change2014
  1,000 tons Percent 1,000 tons Percent Percent
  Lemons* 894 832 -6.9 827 760 -8.1 91
  Oranges 8719 6783 -22.2 2333 2000 -14.3 29
  Tangerines and mandarins* 662 726 9.7 459 580 26.5 80
  Grapefruit 1207 1053 -12.8 171 160 -6.3 15
  Tangelos 50 40 -19.5 -- -- -- 0
Noncitrus 1/              
  Apples 4805 5626 17.1 137 115 -15.9 2
  Apricots* 63 64 2.0 57 55 -2.7 86
  Avocados* 2/ 222 -- -- 190 -- -- 86
  Blueberries 285 336 17.7 22 28 22.8 8
  Dates* 31 30 -2.6 31 30 -2.6 100
  Figs* 36 32 -11.8 36 32 -11.8 100
  Grapes* 7857 7770 -1.1 7079 6819 -3.7 88
  Kiwifruit* 32 29 -10.7 32 29 -10.7 100
  Nectarines* 192 209 8.7 182 196 7.7 94
  Olives* 132 82 -37.8 132 82 -37.8 100
  Peaches* 981 847 -13.7 711 616 -13.4 73
  Pears 898 808 -10.0 227 192 -15.3 24
  Plums and prunes* 515 426 -17.3 502 411 -18.1 97
  Raspberries* 88 91 3.6 50 51 2.0 56
  Strawberries* 3/ 1500 1511 0.7 1351 1379 2.1 91
  Sweet cherries 364 382 5.1 81 40 -50.5 10
Melons 4/              
  Cantaloupe* 893 746 -16.5 578 468 -19.0 63
  Honeydew* 175 187 6.6 127 142 11.5 76
  Watermelon 1806 1598 -11.6 310 254 -18.0 16
Tree nuts              
  Almonds, in shell* 3/ 1697 1546 -8.9 1697 1546 -8.9 100
  Pistachios, in shell* 3/ 244 257 5.3 244 257 5.3 100
  Walnuts, in shell* 3/ 483 565 16.9 483 565 16.9 100
-- = Not available.
* = California ranks No. 1 in U.S. production.
1/ Preliminary estimates. 2/ California share of U.S. avocado production is based on 2011-13 average volume. 3/ Utilized production. 4/ Production for fresh market.
Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Citrus Fruits 2008-2012 Final Estimates (August 2014), Crop Production (March 2015), Noncitrus Fruit and Nuts 2014 Preliminary Summary (January 2015), Noncitrus Fruit and Nuts 2007-2012 Final Estimates (October 2014), Vegetables 2014 Summary (January 2015), Vegetables 2008-2012 Final Estimates (August 2014).

Vegetables: U.S. and California Production Updates

Impacts of the extended drought on production have been mitigated by the irrigation that supplies virtually 100 percent of California vegetable acres. Despite ongoing drought and water shortages in California, where about 40 percent of U.S. vegetables and pulses are grown, total U.S. output volume rose 5 percent from 2013 as harvested area expanded.

  • While State production of some vegetables decreased in 2014 compared to the previous 3-year average (e.g., cauliflower for the processing market, artichokes, snap beans, head lettuce, Romaine lettuce) production of other vegetables increased (e.g., broccoli and tomatoes for the processing market, bell peppers, chili peppers, spinach, leaf lettuce).
  • Despite ongoing drought and water shortages, California continued to be the leading State for fresh-market vegetables in 2014, accounting for 52 percent of production and 60 percent of farm value.
  • Reports out of California indicate fewer plantings for short-season crops such as lettuce, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley where groundwater is less available and water allocations have been curtailed. Land may be diverted to other vegetable crops or left fallow. Acres planted to head lettuce in Fresno County fell 27 percent between 2012 and 2013 while acres planted to leaf lettuce increased 4.5 percent (California Agricultural Commissioners’ Report). The San Joaquin Valley typically serves as a “shoulder region” for lettuce as production moves between the Central Coast and Southern California. Based on data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, less than 5 percent of the California lettuce crop was grown in San Joaquin Valley, with two-thirds produced in the Central Coast and 30 percent in Southern California. State-wide, 2014 area harvested for head and Romaine lettuce decreased 9 and 2 percent, respectively, compared to the 2011-13 average, while area harvested for leaf lettuce increased almost 5 percent (USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service - NASS).
  • Total U.S. production of tomatoes used for canned products—such as sauces, paste, soup, juice, and ketchup—rose 16 percent to 29.3 billion pounds in 2014 as area, yields, and prices increased. Water shortages in California, where 95-97 percent of processing tomatoes are grown, did not inhibit production which has continued to expand. According to the NASS January 15 California Processing Tomato report, U.S. processors anticipate contracting a record 15.0 million short tons in 2015. If realized, this amount would be the largest tomato crop on record—surpassing the 2014 amount by 11 percent.
  • A small number of California horticultural operations reported discontinued irrigation between 2012 and 2013 due to a shortage of surface water (24 operations) or a shortage of ground water (16 operations) (USDA/NASS Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, 2013). If water supplies continue to tighten, the rising cost of irrigation could pressure California producers to find new sources of water, invest in additional water conserving technologies, or simply bid up the cost of remaining water supplies.
Table 2. Vegetables: U.S. and California production volume, selected crops
 U.S. volumeCalifornia volumeCalifornia share
CommodityAverage 2011-132014ChangeAverage 2011-132014Change2014
  Million lb
Percent Million lb
Percent Percent
Artichokes* 101 95 -5.6 101 95 -5.6 100
Asparagus* 78 74 -4.9 37 34 -8.7 46
  Fresh 63 57 -9.8 37 34 -8.7 60
Snap beans, fresh 439 368 -16.2 59 46 -21.9 13
Broccoli* 1,999 2,093 4.7 1,904 2,013 5.7 96
  Fresh market 1,950 2,024 3.8 1,854 1,944 4.8 96
  Processing market 50 69 39.4 50 69 39.4 100
Cabbage 2,055 2,236 8.8 517 689 33.1 31
Carrots* 2,325 2,538 9.2 1,927 2,096 8.8 83
Cauliflower* 667 705 5.8 586 627 7.1 89
  Fresh market 650 698 7.3 569 620 8.8 89
  Processing market 16 8 -53.9 16 8 -53.9 100
Celery* 1,904 1,839 -3.4 1,802 1,741 -3.4 95
Cucumbers, fresh 766 690 -10.0 76 68 -10.0 10
Garlic* 413 387 -6.3 404 380 -6.1 98
Head lettuce, fresh* 4,860 4,444 -8.6 3,636 3,219 -11.5 72
Leaf lettuce, fresh* 1,247 1,298 4.1 1,072 1,104 3.0 85
Romaine lettuce, fresh* 2,767 2,468 -10.8 2,104 1,778 -15.5 72
Onions, dry, summer* 6,306 6,489 2.9 1,623 1,986 22.4 31
Bell peppers* 1,547 1,535 -0.8 861 924 7.3 60
Chili peppers* 415 463 11.4 251 319 27.2 69
Potatoes 44,322 44,669 0.8 1,503 1,569 4.4 4
Pumpkins 1,132 1,314 16.1 183 192 5.0 15
Squash 685 575 -16.2 119 104 -12.8 18
Spinach, fresh* 566 592 4.5 359 416 15.9 70
Sweet corn, fresh 2,760 2,535 -8.2 608 542 -10.8 21
Sweet potatoes 2,608 2,958 13.4 628 523 -16.8 18
Tomatoes, open field 28,309 32,003 11 25,610 29,038 13.4 91
  Fresh market 2,839 2,728 -3.9 1,156 1,018 -12.0 37
  Processing market* 25,471 29,275 14.9 24,454 28,020 14.6 96
* = California ranks No. 1 in U.S. production.
Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Vegetables 2014 Summary (January 2015), Vegetables 2008-2012 Final Estimates (August 2014).

Import Share of Fruit, Tree Nut, and Vegetable Domestic Use

Although regarded as a major global producer of fruit, tree nuts, and vegetables, overall the United States is a net importer of these products.  U.S. imports of fruit, tree nuts and vegetables continue to grow rapidly in response to increased demand, partly owing to a growing ethnic population; increased awareness of the importance of fruit, tree nuts, and vegetables in a healthy diet; and increased demand for new products.  Imports have been critical in increasing year-round domestic supplies by providing off-season products (e.g., grapes and stone fruit from Chile and asparagus from Peru in the winter) and tropical fruit (bananas, papayas, pineapple, mangoes, and limes) for which there is limited to no domestic production. Imports also help fill supply gaps resulting from occasional adverse weather or, in the case of fruit and tree nuts, their alternate-bearing nature.    

  • U.S. fruit imports continue to rise, especially in the fresh, canned, and juice markets. In recent years, U.S. markets for fresh and canned fruit, as well as fruit juice, are the most dependent on imports to satisfy domestic demand. In 2013/14, 52 percent of fresh fruit (including bananas), 36 percent of canned fruit, and 35 percent of fruit juice consumed in the United States were from imports (table 3). Bananas make up about half of total U.S. import volume for fresh fruit and are sourced from Guatemala, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Honduras. Excluding bananas, U.S. fresh fruit imports account for about one-third of domestic fresh fruit use.
  • Mexico and Chile are the leading suppliers of fresh fruit (excluding bananas) imported by the United States.  About one-third of U.S. fresh and frozen fruit imports (excluding bananas) come from Mexico and include fruits such as limes, tangerines, mangoes, grapes, pineapples, papayas, avocados, and strawberries. Chile accounts for a 20-percent share. Chile’s Southern Hemisphere location enables it to provide fresh fruit during the times when the United States produces little, complementing domestic production, particularly from November through March.  
  • Other fruit and fruit product suppliers to the United States include Brazil (the largest supplier of orange juice), as well as China, Argentina, and Chile (the leading suppliers of apple juice). Western Europe is a major supplier of U.S. imports of processed fruit products, such as wine and fruit juices. Southeast Asia—specifically, Thailand and the Philippines for canned pineapple—provides the largest share of canned fruit products.
  • U.S. demand for almonds, walnuts, and pistachios is met mostly by domestic production.  U.S. tree nut imports supplement the domestic market with products that are not domestically produced, namely cashew nuts and Brazil nuts. While a major global producer, the United States imports almost as much pecans as it exports, with annual import volumes ranking second highest among all U.S. tree nut imports.
  • While a majority of melons consumed in the United States are sourced from domestic production, U.S. melon imports have risen to record-high levels in recent years. Presently, watermelon imports hold a 51-percent share of total U.S. melon import volume, and cantaloupe imports account for a one-third share. Mexico is the primary supplier of watermelon imports to the United States, while Guatemala provides more than half of cantaloupe imports. Imports fill demand gaps in the market mostly in the winter and early spring and account for at least one-third of the available melon supplies for domestic consumption (table 4).  
  • U.S. vegetable imports continue to rise for fresh, canned, and frozen markets, with frozen vegetables (excluding potatoes) having a slightly higher reliance on imports than fresh vegetables to meet domestic demand (table 5).  
  • U.S. imports of vegetables (including mushrooms and potatoes) reached a total value of $11 billion in 2014, up 2.1 percent from 2013. The increase was mainly led by frozen vegetables (up 6 percent) which accounted for 9 percent of the 2014 vegetable import value followed by canned vegetables (3 percent). With the added trade advantages of NAFTA and close proximity to the United States, Mexico remained the top foreign source with 49 percent of import value, followed by Canada (21 percent). China, Peru, and the remaining countries accounted for 30 percent of import value in 2014.
Table 3. Import share of domestic use for selected fruit and tree nuts, 3-year average and 2013/14
 Import share of domestic use
Commodities2010/11-2012/13 average2013/14
  Apricots 8 3
  Avocados 71 80
  Cherries 9 7
  Grapes 51 47
  Kiwifruit 76 80
  Lemons 10 9
  Mandarins and tangerines 25 23
  Oranges 8 9
  Peaches and nectarines 7 8
  Plums 18 20
  Strawberries 11 13
  All, fresh fruit 49 52
  Apricot 85 97
  Dates 49 60
  Figs 46 71
  Peaches 80 93
  Prunes 1 9
  Raisins 10 8
  All, dried fruit 20 22
  Apricots 5 11
  Sweet cherries 75 100
  Olives 60 57
  Peaches 14 20
  Plums 33 30
  All, canned fruit 35 36
  Grape 45 41
  Wine 28 26
  Prune 44 47
  Lemon 58 62
  Orange 16 25
  All, juiced fruit 31 35
Tree nuts    
  Almonds 4 6
  Pistachios 1 1
  Walnuts 3 8
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Fruit and Tree Nuts Yearbook (October 2014).
Table 4. Import share of domestic use for melons, 3-year average and 2013/14
 Import share of domestic use
Commodities2010/11-2012/13 average2013/14
Cantaloupe 37 40
Honeydew 38 37
Watermelon 26 34
All, melons 33 38
Source:  USDA, Economic Research Service, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook (March 2015).
Table 5. Import share of domestic use for selected vegetables, 3-year average and 2014
 Import share of domestic use
Commodities2011-13 average2014
  Beans, snap
  Corn, sweet
  Lettuce, head
  Lettuce, leaf and romaine
  Peppers, bell
  Total (excluding potatoes, mushrooms,and sweet potatoes)
  Asparagus, freezing
  Broccoli, processing
  Cauliflower, processing
  Onions, dehydration
  Peppers, chili (all uses)
  Spinach, freezing
  Tomatoes, processing
  Total, canning (excluding potatoes and mushrooms)
  Total, freezing (excluding potatoes)
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook (March 2015).

Cotton: California Acreage, Production, and Value

Cotton production in California depends on irrigation. The recent drought that began in 2012 remains a major concern for agricultural producers as reservoir levels and water supplies have been reduced significantly; record-low water allocations were seen in 2014. Also, competition from urban areas has grown with population.

California Cotton: Highlights

  • Fourth-largest cotton producing State over 2012-14. Accounted for 6 percent of U.S. cotton production during 2012-14.
  • Ranked 10th out of 17 States in area planted to cotton in 2015.
  • State yields are nearly double the U.S. average.
  • Produces both upland and extra-long staple (ELS) cotton.
  • Produces high-quality cotton with the majority going into the export market.

Cotton Production

  • California cotton production has declined for 4 consecutive years to an estimated 516,000 (480-lb) bales in 2015, about one-third the production of the mid-2000s and the lowest since the mid-1940s.
  • California ranks 7th by State in cotton output, producing both upland and ELS cotton.
  • ELS, or American Pima, cotton is grown in the western part of the United States and accounts for only 4 percent of the total U.S. cotton crop. California is the dominant producer of the longer and finer quality ELS fiber that is used in high-value products such as sewing thread and more expensive apparel and home furnishing items. During the past 3 years, California production accounted for 94 percent of total ELS cotton production in the United States.

Cotton Acreage

  • California currently ranks 10th out of 17 States in area planted to cotton. California’s cotton acreage is entirely irrigated, which has contributed to a high-yielding crop.
  • During 2012-14, California cotton area averaged approximately 290,000 acres, or about 3 percent of total U.S. cotton acreage. This is considerably lower than a decade ago, as irrigation supplies are lower and higher value crops have pulled acreage away from cotton production.
  • While acreage planted to upland and ELS varies from year to year, the lingering drought in California limited acreage once again in 2015. USDA’s Crop Production report released in October indicated a 24-percent decrease in the State’s total cotton area for 2015, with ELS area declining 26 percent and upland area decreasing 18 percent. While this would be California’s lowest total cotton area since 1932, the decline is similar to the one experienced during the previous statewide drought of 2007-09.

Cotton Value

  • As a producer of high-quality cotton fiber, California accounts for a greater share of U.S. cotton value than its share of production.
  • With the decline in area, California’s production value has declined considerably in recent years. During the mid-1990s, the value of California’s cotton crop was approximately $1 billion. But based on the latest USDA Crop Values report, California’s 2014 cotton production value is estimated at approximately $500 million, or about 10 percent of the value of all cotton produced in the United States.
  • Cotton accounted for roughly 14 percent of the State’s field crop value during 2012-14. Given the State’s extensive crop diversity, cotton represents only 2 percent of the total value of principal crops grown.
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Rice: California Acreage, Production, and Value

The historic California drought, now in its 4th year, has had a major impact on the California and U.S. rice industry. Because of the drought, low reservoir levels, and water restrictions, rice acreage in California in 2014 declined more than 23 percent from a year earlier to 434,000 acres, the smallest since 1992. All of the California rice crop is irrigated. Rice plantings in 2015 declined an additional 5 percent to 416,000 acres, yielding a crop of just 32.9 million cwt, 11 percent less than a year earlier and the smallest California rice crop since 1998.

  • California is the second-largest rice growing State, with most of the crop grown in the Sacramento Valley in Northern California.
  • From 2004 until 2013, California’s share of the total U.S. rice crop averaged 22 percent.
  • In 2014, California’s rice production declined 22 percent from the previous season to 37 million hundredweight (cwt), the smallest crop since 1999.
  • California grows primarily medium- and short-grain rice and accounted for 79 percent of U.S. production of these two classes of rice from 2004/05 to 2013/14.
  • Field yields in California are10-15 percent higher than average yields in the South, a result of both the varieties grown and the climate. This yield difference has declined over the past 20 years as southern yields have increased while California yields have shown no significant long-term increase.
  • Rice accounts for slightly more than 3 percent of the total value of principal crops grown in California, and  1-2 percent of the total value of principal crops grown in the United States.
  • Price increases for California rice due to smaller crops have been limited by a 120-percent increase in medium-grain area in the South. Southern medium-grain rice currently trades at 25-30 percent less than the price of California medium-grain rice. The difference is largely due to the higher quality of California rice.
  • Like the South, California typically exports about half its crop each year, with northeast Asia accounting for more than half of annual shipments from California.
  • California typically supplies the bulk of U.S. medium- and short-grain rice for export. However, since 2014/15, southern rice exports have increased, due mostly to its lower price. This will likely occur in 2015/16 as well.

Figure 3

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ERS Crop Specialists

Agnes Perez and Kristy Plattner (fruit and tree nuts), Hodan Farah Wells (vegetables and pulses), Leslie Meyer (cotton), and Nathan Childs (rice)

Last updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2015

For more information contact: Suzanne Thornsbury