The Last Peach

Published on September 12th, 2017

Population Growth, Sprawl Threaten California’s Crops.

For some, Labor Day marks summer’s end. For others, summer is over, symbolically at least, when the last peach vanishes from California’s farmer’s markets. The peach season is long, and with more than 2,000 varieties, a delight for consumers, and this year for growers too.

According to the University of California Issues Center and Cooperative Extension, peach farmers may net roughly $800 more per acre from late-harvest processing peaches versus extra-early harvest varieties.

But despite fruit growers’ profits, their choice too often comes down to whether to accept the more lucrative lump sums buyouts  developers offer even selling means the end of their family businesses. 

Disappointingly, to date, developers are winning. As the American Farmland Trust reported several years ago, development paves over an average of about 40,000 acres of agricultural land per year.

Of this, 28 percent or 152,000 acres of land, were prime, unique or statewide important farmland. In the San Joaquin Valley, which accounts for over half of California’s total agricultural output, more than 60 percent of all land developed was prime, unique or of statewide importance. I witnessed the devastation first hand. In the mid-1980s, when I moved to Lodi, in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley center, the town was agriculture-dominated. But when I left 20 years later, the grapes, peach and cherry orchards had mostly been plowed under, and box stores replaced them.

According to the Trust’s then-president Ralph Grossi: “We are consuming more land per person than at any time, in the most wasteful way.'' The National Associate of Homebuilders agreed with Grossi’s conclusion, but kept building, and promoted smart growth, a concept that never took hold. Growth has continued unabated since the Trust first published its report and since I left Lodi.

Growth isn’t inevitable, and with California’s population estimated to soar from today’s nearly 40 million to 50 million by 2050, sensible, sustainable family planning and a common sense federal immigration policy are paramount.

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