Is agriculture really important to Stanislaus County's economy? You bet it is. The county's 4,140 farms and 2,260 growers generate $4.4 billion in farmgate income and are responsible for 38 percent of local employment. (Farmgate income is what farmers are paid for their crops.) Many of us in Stanislaus County are employed by industries that provide services and inputs to agriculture. Things needed to make farming work; tractors and irrigation equipment, fuel, fertilizer and repair shops needed by farmers are just a few of the related businesses used by farmers. Even more are employed in processing, distribution, sales and transportation of farm products. To be employed by agriculture it is not necessary to be on a farm. In Stanislaus County, agriculture is the industry that drives our local economy.
We sometimes take agriculture for granted because it has always been here. We shouldn't. The value of agricultural commodities has risen from $1 billion in 1990 to $4.4 billion in 2014. That's higher than 20 states make in agricultural income and higher than the entire budget of eight U.S. states combined. Ag related businesses such as E.&J. Gallo, Del Monte, Foster Farms, Seneca, Stanislaus Food and ConAgra are the county's largest employers.
The San Joaquin Valley and Stanislaus County in particular is the most productive and bountiful farm ground in the world. The Mediterranean climate that we enjoy is extremely rare in the world. Couple that with our productive soils, and extensive irrigation system fed by the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, and we have the ability to grow more than 200 different crops. This is unique in the world. Today this valley leads the nation and the world in the production of almonds, walnuts, peaches, apricots, and milk, and is the envy of other agricultural regions of our country.
The Stanislaus County Board of supervisors addressed the importance of our agricultural industry and has addressed the challenges facing it.
• We adopted the "Right to Farm" ordinance, which recognizes the right to farm in a manner consistent with accepted customs and standards. This has protected our farmers from frivolous law suits and unrealistic demands
• We extended the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land and open spaces.
• We passed the "Ag Element" which recognized the importance of our agricultural sector and set goals and objectives that include enhancing marketing and promotion of ag products, protecting food safety, soil erosion prevention and water conservation.
• We passed the first agricultural preservation requirements in the San Joaquin Valley stipulating one acre of land be set aside in perpetuity for every acre of land taken out of production for construction of residential housing.
Agricultural land should not just be considered the inventory for the next housing tract or warehouse. Ag land is an important and irreplaceable natural resource that is responsible for employing more people than any other industry in the county. We must recognize this reality. We will not improve ourselves by paving over our most productive agricultural land or by simply becoming a bedroom community for the Bay Area. Our strength is our agriculture. It is important that we recognize the uniqueness of Stanislaus County agriculture and build on the strength.