A panoramic view of the citrus groves in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of Riverside, California, in November 2015.

Acres of citrus crops remain at Riverside’s California Citrus State Historic Park. Citrus was once a leading industry in both Riverside and Orange Counties. Photo by Daniel Coats.

In honor of National Agriculture Day this March 15, Mihaylo faculty and business partners reflect on the Golden State’s agricultural past, its current status as the nation’s top crop-producing state and the future of the embattled industry in light of drought and development.

Think of Orange County’s economy. Tourism, entertainment, real estate, higher education and finance might come to mind. But not long ago, the county was one of the nation’s leading agricultural regions.

Orange County was appropriately named for its citrus industry, which began on the land now occupied by CSU Fullerton. A plaque between University Hall and the College of the Humanities marks the site of the state’s first Valencia orange orchard planted in 1880. The surrounding orange trees still thrive.

By the 1930s, a third of the nation’s Valencia oranges were raised in Orange County. Agriculture remained the county’s economic engine of growth through the 1950s, when tract housing began to replace acres of farmland.

Further inland, the Riverside area had the nation’s highest per capita income in 1895 due to the city’s citrus industry. The city’s agricultural heritage is still preserved at the California Citrus State Historic Park, which includes acres of orange groves and a museum dedicated to the history of citriculture.


·         Agriculture and related industries comprised 4.7% of the nation’s GDP in 2013 (the most recent statistics available). That’s a total of $789 billion.

·         Agriculture accounts for 51% of the nation’s land area.

·         The top five states ranked by agricultural production are California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota, as of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

·         The U.S. is the world’s leading producer of corn, soybeans and wheat; China is the leader in fish; Thailand is the top rice producer; and Indonesia is at the top of the pack for palm oil.

SOURCES: USDA Economic Research Service and Investopedia

Far from a relic of the past, however, California remains the nation’s leading agricultural producer. The Central Valley, Napa Valley, Ventura County, Imperial Valley and Temecula Valley remain leading crop-producing regions. In 2014, the state’s 76,400 farms and ranches produced revenue of $54 billion. The state’s top crops include milk, almonds, grapes, cattle, strawberries and lettuce, each valued at more than $2 billion per year.

California food exports are growing, particularly around the Pacific Rim. “California food products are well known around the world as quality products,”Mihaylo alumnus and adjunct professor Jeff Williamson ’03 told CNBC in 2014.

However, the state’s crippling five-year drought and urbanization have hurt many California farmers.

A tree from the state's first Valencia orange grove stands in front of the Humanities Building at Cal State Fullerton.

CSU Fullerton’s monument to the region’s citrus heritage. The land where the university now sits was once the site of the state’s first Valencia orange grove, portions of which still thrive in the midst of the busy campus. Credit: Chris Jepsen.

“We are dependent both on local groundwater and water imports from Northern California and the Colorado River,” says Mike Mellano, president of the Mellano and Company flower production enterprise and a member of Mihaylo’s Center for Family Business. “It is a challenging time, as the drought has impacted our operations and other floriculture operations around the state.”

Immigration laws, land-use policies, climate conditions, commodity prices and the performance of the national and global economies are just some of the factors that influence the well-being of America’s 22 million agricultural employees.

More information on the state of the national and state agricultural sectors can be found at the USDA Economic Research Service and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. A global perspective can be found at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Agricultural Events in Southern California

If you would like to experience Southern California’s agricultural heritage, there are several annual festivals and special events of interest within 100 miles of Mihaylo College.

These include:

Carlsbad Flower Fields

Enjoy acres of wildflowers, grown by Center for Family Business member Mellano and Company at the annual Carlsbad Flower Fields though May 8.

Avocado Festival

San Diego County has historically been one of the world’s leading avocado producing areas. This heritage will be celebrated on April 17, 2016, at the 30th Annual Fallbrook Avocado Festival, featuring a guacamole contest, local artisans and a beer garden.

Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival

Experience California viticulture along with concerts and hot air balloon rides at the annual festival, next held May 20 to 22, 2016, at Lake Skinner in Riverside County, part of one of the nation’s leading wine producing regions.

Cherry Festival

Beaumont’s 98th annual Cherry Festival is June 2 to 5, 2016. The event will feature live bands, a parade, car show and carnival.

Oak Glen

The town in the San Bernardino Mountains is a great place to enjoy autumn colors and picking apples each September to November. The area also features a five-mile loop of ranches, farms and tourist-oriented businesses.

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