McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Features

July 16, 2013

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

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 | Photo Reprints
Features
  • Easter Surprise Easter Surprise

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • JECC Eggs 1 JECC Egg Hunt

    April 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Lights On for Louie Lights On For Louie

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Baby Fair Baby Fair

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-10-ducks.jpg PAWS: Happy Easter

    As I was growing up, it seemed that Easter was always a time for giving a cute little furry animal as a gift. We seem to associate this holiday with bunnies and chicks, and of course, kitties and puppies.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fairly Snotty McAlester livestock report

    On Tuesday, 1,200 head of cattle were sold at the McAlester Union Stockyards. Steers sold $2 to $9 higher than at the last sale and heifers sold $4 to $8 higher.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 18, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • David Cantrell OSU Extension: Cattle tips for spring

    As we continue to move into spring here in Pittsburg County and cattle prices are at an all-time high, here are a few basic management tips to ensure herd health and productivity of the herd.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • RICHARDSON 50 1.jpg Richardsons celebrate 50 years of marriage

    Haileyville High School graduates Jim and Connie Richardson, of rural Claremore, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

Seasonal Content
AP Video
NDN Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.