Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Most fertile US state?


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

I was thinking, I hear often about how California is the most agriculturally productive state by just about every measure. But California is also the largest significant agricultural state. Only Alaska and Texas have more land area than California. California is 155,973 square miles. That's about triple the size of New York, Florida or North Carolina, and about 16 times the size of Vermont.

If we were to adjust for size and compare that to absolute production numbers in order to derive an "agricultural fertility index," I wonder how the states would rank. Would California have the highest fertility index, or would a state like Iowa suddenly jump to the top of the rankings?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have the answers to your questions, but I would bet that NY would come out much higher than most people would expect. People tend to think of the City when they think of NY and often dismiss it as an agricultural force. That would be a mistake as north of Westchester and indeed east of Nassau, it is quite fertile indeed.

One advantage some of the warmer agricultural states such as California, Texas and Florida would have is that they can produce crops year round.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No answers, either, really.

We do have deserts and mountains here in California, which, while lovely, are not particularly agriculturally productive.

And many of the perennial crops are not productive all year 'round. There's still only one grape harvest per year.

On the other hand, if you drive through Iowa or Wisconsin, you see, more or less, two crops. Corn and Soybeans. If you drive through the Central Valley of California, you'll see a much larger variety of crops.

Ahem, and if I had to pick a US state whose agricultural products I would be forced to live on for the rest of my life, uh, I'd probably pick California.

Not that I'm biased or anything.

But, the wine in the midwest just is not very good.

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No help on the wine department, but Louisiana's agricultural landmass is huge in percentage of the state as a whole. A wide variety of growing conditions, from swampy black soil to the red clay up north of Alexandria, plus a huge farm culture. Lots of emu farms popped up a few years back, and we already know how to not waste a molecule of just about anything that we raise and kill.

Rice, corn, strawberries, blackberries, soybeans (most beans in fact), sweet potatoes, pecans, some citrus (those lovely little satsumas and kumquats), sugar cane, cattle, pork, small game like rabbits, large game like deer, waterfowl like ducks, frogs, alligators, most seafood (fresh and saltwater varieties), peppers, and I probably missed a lot. Those are just the things I've personally harvested on Louisiana soil.

eta: Are we also considering the animals that live in the area? They are there because of the food supply, so I think they would factor in. Also, some states have coastlines and rivers that contribute to the take of natural flora and fauna.

Edited by FistFullaRoux (log)
Screw it. It's a Butterball.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are we going to factor the length of the growing season into this equation? My tomato plants still aren't in because the nights are barely into the 50's yet.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are we going to factor the length of the growing season into this equation?  My tomato plants still aren't in because the nights are barely into the 50's yet.

that is true here in wisconsin also. although we've had some unusually warm days already this spring it only lasts a day or two then we are back into the 60s for days and 40s or 50s at night. quite an adjustment after living in central tx for so many years where i could count on three harvests a year. there i could start first planting in february and do the last harvest about thanksgiving. so if we don't take growing season into account southern/southeastern states will have a tremndous leg up over other notable agra states.

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here ya' go: USDA data on agricultural productivity in the United States.

A slew of complex data tables, but according to Table 13, Total Productivity, it looks like Florida and Georgia are ahead of California (or at least they were in 1999, the most recent year for which full data is available). Without reading more deeply, I'm not sure what "total productivity" includes.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fertility is moot in the absence of water supply. California's Central Vallery is indeed very fertile with an incredibly deep layer of soil but it's the Federal irrigation canals that have allowed it to become a stable and consistent producer for a wide range of crops.

Wells were used for sprinkler type irrigation long before the canals appeared but more than a few farmers went bust as the wells dried up and the ground collapsed in various areas.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here ya' go: USDA data on agricultural productivity in the United States.

A slew of complex data tables, but according to Table 13, Total Productivity, it looks like Florida and Georgia are ahead of California (or at least they were in 1999, the most recent year for which full data is available). Without reading more deeply, I'm not sure what "total productivity" includes.

I'm guessing output per unit of land, but I may be wrong.

I do note that mountainous West Virginia trails the rankings, and the state where I live, which is almost as mountainous yet has a significant agricultural sector, ranks at the top of the fourth quintile. I am a bit surprised to see the breadbasket states of the Central Plains in the middle.

Alaska and Hawaii have no agriculture?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fertility is moot in the absence of water supply. California's Central Vallery is indeed very fertile with an incredibly deep layer of soil but it's the Federal irrigation canals that have allowed it to become a stable and consistent producer for a wide range of crops.

Wells were used for sprinkler type irrigation long before the canals appeared but more than a few farmers went bust as the wells dried up and the ground collapsed in various areas.

The irrigation canals in California are not Federally built or maintained. They are built and managed by the Department of Water Resources

Some (but not all) of the levees along natural rivers and around the Sacramento delta, were constructed and are maintained (poorly) by the Federal Army Corps of Engineers and there have been several failures, causing floods in the Modesto area especially.

Other than the collapse of the Baldwin Hills dam in 1963 (constructed prior to the 1956 advent of the State Water Resources Board, and the crack in the lower Van Norman dam in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, there have been no significant problems with the State Water Projects built after 1939.

The California aqueduct system moves a lot of water over huge distances and delivers it to what is essentially a desert.

California state water project

Of course, the most famous water project in California is the Mullholland-designed Los Angeles Aqueduct owned by the City of Los Angeles, the first completed in 1913 and its twin completed in 1970.

The original project is by far the major reason the area was able to be developed and the farms and groves of the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, Pomona, etc., were producing and exporting produce to the rest of the country by the early 1920s, 95% by rail.

Incidentally, the Antelope Valley now has several wineries and are offering tours. Unlike the coastal range vineyards, this area is at higher altitude and has distinct seasons, with hard freezes (lowest was 7 degrees F this past January) and according to one vintner who was interviewed on the news last week, certain grapes that produce better after a period of winter dormancy, are doing very well here.

I don't drink alcohol so I can't comment on taste.

These are totally dependent on the California Aqueduct.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting. Sounds like the plot of "Chinatown"--didn't Jake Gittes uncover all this info?

I think the real factor is climate and less soil and irrigation.

My guess is california has the kind of climate in the central valley to grow a wide variety of quality produce all year round.

There's a reason wheat and corn and sou beans are the main crops in the midwest beyond the livestock feed and ethanol etc. The stuff probably grows better in those climes than other items and the flat land is plentiful so they can be grown in such huge quantities.

Same reason citrus and sugar cane are grown in hotter climes found in the Gulf states and Texas.

Man can deal with dry soils and poor soils but we haven't found a way to manipulate weather. (we're workin on it though).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here ya' go: USDA data on agricultural productivity in the United States.

A slew of complex data tables, but according to Table 13, Total Productivity, it looks like Florida and Georgia are ahead of California (or at least they were in 1999, the most recent year for which full data is available). Without reading more deeply, I'm not sure what "total productivity" includes.

I'd certainly like to know more about the math behind the measurements. But assuming this is a size-adjusted productivity index that's relatively sensible, it's interesting to see California at number 3. These are the top ten:

State Rank in 1999

FL 1

GA 2

CA 3

WA 4

NC 5

AR 6

AZ 7

ID 8

IA 9

NE 10

I'm very surprised to see Arizona on there, so this measurement must include livestock, which I hadn't really been considering. Also interesting is that California was #1 in 1960 but fell to #3 by 1999.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here ya' go: USDA data on agricultural productivity in the United States.

A slew of complex data tables, but according to Table 13, Total Productivity, it looks like Florida and Georgia are ahead of California (or at least they were in 1999, the most recent year for which full data is available). Without reading more deeply, I'm not sure what "total productivity" includes.

I'd certainly like to know more about the math behind the measurements. But assuming this is a size-adjusted productivity index that's relatively sensible, it's interesting to see California at number 3. These are the top ten:

State Rank in 1999

FL 1

GA 2

CA 3

WA 4

NC 5

AR 6

AZ 7

ID 8

IA 9

NE 10

I'm very surprised to see Arizona on there, so this measurement must include livestock, which I hadn't really been considering. Also interesting is that California was #1 in 1960 but fell to #3 by 1999.

Other USDA data include livestock, eggs, and dairy products in production, so I wonder if this measurement does too. The tables weren't annotated as to definitions, which must be somewhere else.

marketstel: Yes, I'm surprised that Alaska and Hawaii are not in the report! Hawaii has a lot of agriculture, which has moved from "export crops" like pineapple and sugar cane to more diversified small farms.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]

I'm very surprised to see Arizona on there, so this measurement must include livestock, which I hadn't really been considering. Also interesting is that California was #1 in 1960 but fell to #3 by 1999.

Arizona actually has quite a lot of agriculture. While a lot of the farms have been converted to real estate developments in recent years, they still produce a lot of cotton among other agricultural crops. They even have some vineyards.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here ya' go: USDA data on agricultural productivity in the United States.

A slew of complex data tables, but according to Table 13, Total Productivity, it looks like Florida and Georgia are ahead of California (or at least they were in 1999, the most recent year for which full data is available). Without reading more deeply, I'm not sure what "total productivity" includes.

I'd certainly like to know more about the math behind the measurements. But assuming this is a size-adjusted productivity index that's relatively sensible, it's interesting to see California at number 3. These are the top ten:

State Rank in 1999

FL 1

GA 2

CA 3

WA 4

NC 5

AR 6

AZ 7

ID 8

IA 9

NE 10

I'm very surprised to see Arizona on there, so this measurement must include livestock, which I hadn't really been considering. Also interesting is that California was #1 in 1960 but fell to #3 by 1999.

Other USDA data include livestock, eggs, and dairy products in production, so I wonder if this measurement does too. The tables weren't annotated as to definitions, which must be somewhere else.

marketstel: Yes, I'm surprised that Alaska and Hawaii are not in the report! Hawaii has a lot of agriculture, which has moved from "export crops" like pineapple and sugar cane to more diversified small farms.

Yea, I can remember well my 13 years of sampling those "diversified small farm" crops while living on Maui!

"I drink to make other people interesting".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

interesting stuff. first, it's important (and somewhat obvious) to remember that "agriculture" doesn't equate to produce. And I'm wondering what the standard is: are they measuring dollar output or is it volume of production? certainly, as someone pointed out, much of california is completely inhospitable ... even with the state's maze of water projects. Can anyone say "Donner Party"?

eta: just scanning some of the tables, i wonder if it might be something else entirely being measured: it seems to be they're comparing inputs and outputs. hard to say though, and I'm afraid I'm not going to spend a sunny Friday afternoon trying to figure it out. Thank god that book is finished!

Edited by russ parsons (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]

Other than the collapse of the Baldwin Hills dam in 1963 (constructed prior to the 1956 advent of the State Water Resources Board, and the crack in the lower Van Norman dam in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, there have been no significant problems with the State Water Projects built after 1939.

The California aqueduct system moves a lot of water over huge distances and delivers it to what is essentially a desert. 

[...]

These are totally dependent on the California Aqueduct.

Just to tack on a bit to andiesenji's excellent post, it is very important to remember that much of California is essentially a dessert.

Almost all of our rain is received from December to March. In most of the state, there is no rain for the rest of the year. Even the giant redwoods are not watered so much by rain as a persistent mist.

Much of the native flora is adapted to a dormant period in the summer.

Our native buckeye is deciduous, dropping its leaves in the early summer and leafing out again in fall when the rains start. One of the funniest sights, among our native plants, are the fall buckeyes, completely naked of leaves;but, laden with nuts.

So, yes, agriculture here is very, very dependent on irrigation and those aqueducts.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

State Rank in 1999

FL 1

GA 2

CA 3

WA 4

NC 5

AR 6

AZ 7

ID 8

IA 9

NE 10

... Also interesting is that California was #1 in 1960 but fell to #3 by 1999.

Re: California's fall from #1 to #3 from 1960 to 1999. I'm guessing that the ever increasing suburbanization of the agricultural areas has something to do with this. Silicon Valley was built over some of the richest agricultural land in the world. I live in a Bay Area suburb that was ranch and farm land 50 years ago, until the freeway came in. An old-timer once told me that my house was built over his father-in-law's tomato garden.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also wonder if we're talking dollar value of crop/livestock or weight or packing crate/bushel. Which sends me into two thoughts.

Missouri is again becoming known for its wine production (I say it has far to go), but has a history of being one of the top producers in the country. It also has a lot of traditional crops (soybean, corn, etc). The reason that crops do so well is the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and other tributaries that have fertizilized the soil for eons. So when I first saw this thread I thought we were going to talk about what state can you throw a seed over your shoulder and see it grow. Missouri would definitely fall into that category of fertility.

My second thought is a rememberance to my time living on a corn farm in Indiana. I was a city boy just living in a farmhouse on leased farm land. One season I planted a garden on the southside of my house. The soil was so moist and soft and I knew I would have a decent crop. My neighbor kept watching me work the garden every morning and would just wave and smile. He also liked to talk about how great his garden was because he used a friend's rabbit poop to make a slurry for his plants. And he did have a great garden...not that we were competing or anything.

As the season neared an end and I pulled the biggest tomatoes off of the tallest plants I have ever grown, I took a few to my neighbor to say, "rabbit poop this buddy!" He smuggly asked me if I knew why my plants had done so well. I told him my hard work and probably a bit of chemical runoff from the corn crop. He said, "Yeah, and that you planted on top of your septic tank." So with that, I offer my backyard in Indiana as a nominee for the most fertile state.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Missouri is again becoming known for its wine production (I say it has far to go), but has a history of being one of the top producers in the country.  It also has a lot of traditional crops (soybean, corn, etc).  The reason that crops do so well is the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and other tributaries that have fertizilized the soil for eons.  So when I first saw this thread I thought we were going to talk about what state can you throw a seed over your shoulder and see it grow.  Missouri would definitely fall into that category of fertility.

I recall reading a while ago that prior to Prohibition, Missouri was the leading wine-producing state in the nation, thanks largely to the Germans who settled in the east-central part of the state, around Herrmann. (Those same Germans gave the state its brewing heritage, though the craftsmanship I suspect they originally displayed largely disappeared over the years.)

I thought I also read somewhere else that one legacy of this heritage is many aging caves in that part of the state, some of which are once again being used to mature wine. Personally, I'd love it if someone tried aging cheese in one of them. If Iowa can give us Maytag blue, surely Missouri can produce an outstanding cheese; even though dairy farming is not a major part of Missouri's agricultural mix, there have got to be some cows (or goats, or sheep) producing milk somewhere in the state.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...