The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

July 12, 2013

If we didn't have California, what would we eat?

Friday, July 12, 2013 — Food scientists at Cornell University have produced a strain of broccoli that thrives in hot environments, which may make it possible for states with stiflingly hot summers to grow the vegetable. California, where cool coastal fog is perfect for growing standard broccoli, currently produces more than 90 percent of the broccoli grown in the United States. If California were to disappear, what would the American diet be like?

Expensive and grainy. California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on). Some of this is due to climate and soil. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California's output per acre. Lemon yields in California, for example, are more than 50 percent higher than in Arizona. California spinach yield per acre is 60 percent higher than the national average. Without California, supply of all these products in the United States and abroad would dip, and in the first few years, a few might be nearly impossible to find. Orchard-based products in particular, such as nuts and some fruits, would take many years to spring back.

Price surges would eventually become the larger issue. Rising prices would force Americans to consume more grains, which are locked in a complicated price-dependent relationship with fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. When the price of produce increases, people eat more grain. When the price of grain drops, people eat more fruits and vegetables. (In fact, in some parts of the world, wheat and rice are the only proven "Giffen goods" - a product in which decreasing prices lead to decreasing demand.) Young people and the poor in America, more than others, eat less fresh food when prices rise.

The loss of California's output would create a dire situation for at least a decade. History suggests, however, that we'd eventually find a way to cope. A state's agricultural makeup can evolve surprisingly quickly - California's certainly did. In the 1860s, the state's leading crops were wheat and corn. Beginning in the 1880s, however, the state ceased to be the nation's breadbasket and became its fruit and vegetable basket. Rail-links made transcontinental food shipments possible. Cities on the Eastern seaboard offered staggeringly high prices for produce. Interest rates dropped from 100 percent during the Gold Rush that began in 1849 to 30 percent in 1860 to 10 percent in the 1890s. This decline afforded California farmers the time to change over to slow-developing crops such as nuts and tree fruits. The land under irrigation grew four-fold from 1889 to 1914. Manufacturers of farm equipment relocated to California and designed equipment specifically for the state's farming conditions, the same way automobile parts suppliers flooded Detroit in the early 20th century and computer engineers moved to Silicon Valley in the 1990s.

If the rest of the nation were to lose California's agricultural riches tomorrow, we might see a similar process begin in other states. Although few states will ever have California's glorious year-round-growing climate, they could easily improve transportation and other infrastructure to increase agricultural efficiency.

          

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • The case for separate beds

    WASHINGTON - The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 19, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama's equal pay exaggeration leads us all into danger

    The president's claims of national shame over gender-based pay inequity spring from distorted calculations, as well as some convenient political math.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Brent Laurenz If you want to vote in primary, you need to register to vote now

    RALEIGH – North Carolina voters will head to the polls on May 6 this year to cast ballots in important primary elections across the state.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Scott Mooneyham Heeding the voter fraud call in N.C.

    RALEIGH – Legislators found the findings outrageous.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Roots

    I took a few minutes over the weekend to enjoy our yard and the arrival of spring. There seems to be so much work that needs to be done, it is hard to decide what to do first. I am excited that I got to run my tiller through the garden. I didn’t go very deep, but I did at least break up the soil. I have a couple of raised beds and the soil in them was in very good shape. I didn’t plant my peas and now after the big rain we got on Monday I realize that I missed a window of opportunity.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10 tips for surviving a severe allergy season

    My colleague Brady Dennis reported recently that the arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Here are some survival tips from Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    April 11, 2014

  • Is a paleo vegetarian diet possible?

    Research shows most people can follow a regimented eating plan for a short time. That's not the challenge. The challenge is finding a healthful eating plan you can follow day after day and achieve your long-term health goals. At this point, it doesn't appear that the paleo eating plan meets these objectives for most people.

    April 10, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.16.35 PM.png Are Americans smart to stop drinking diet sodas?

    Recent data from Beverage Digest suggest many are cutting back on diet sodas. Consumption of diet sodas fell more than that of sugary sodas in 2013. This raises two questions: Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health?

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • To get quality care, it helps to be the right kind of patient

    I am a family physician. Sometimes I must step out of the comfort of my clinical role and into that of patient or family caregiver. Generally, these trips to the other side of the exam table inspire a fair amount of anxiety.

    April 10, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content