Say goodbye to the California apricot?
» March 20, 2006 «
Crop threatened with extinction by several factors
A dwindling labor force--combined with foreign competition, high production costs and other forces--threatens to push the California apricot business close to extinction. Family farmers and their representatives say the challenges facing apricot growers confront many other California crops, as well.
A delicate fruit, apricots must be picked by hand. Apricot farmers have had problems recruiting enough harvest help to gather their fruit. At the same time, key markets for canned and dried fruit have evaporated. Canneries buy fewer apricots, and imports of dried apricots from Turkey virtually own the U.S. market now.
"The apricot industry is definitely in a declining mode," said Bill Ferreira, president of the Apricot Producers of California. In an interview with the California Farm Bureau newspaper Ag Alert®, Ferreira said farmers have pulled out some 4,000 acres of apricot trees in the past five years. During the same period, farmers planted fewer than 200 new acres of the state's main apricot variety.
Apricot farmers are doing what they can to retain markets and develop new ones, Ferreira said, seeking to boost sales on the fresh market and cultivating new customers among foodservice professionals who design school menus. But, because the state's main apricot-producing region borders the fast-growing community of Patterson, some farmers have chosen to leave agriculture altogether and sell their land to developers.
The situation facing California apricot farmers is far from unique. Ag Alert reporter Ching Lee writes that other crops have been hit by a flood of cheap imports. Garlic acreage, for example, has been substantially reduced because of inroads made by the Chinese. A garlic processing plant in Firebaugh that once employed 400 people announced that it will close this spring.
Farmers who grow crops such as olives, pears, cling peaches, prunes, raisin grapes and others face the same pressures that leave them little choice but to switch crops or sell the farm.
California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar says Farm Bureau advocates policies aimed at keeping the state's family farms competitive.
"By improving the business climate, enhancing market opportunities for farm goods and supporting meaningful reform to address our nation's immigration concerns, policy makers can reverse some of the forces that now pressure California's family farms and ranches," he said.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization, works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 88,000 members.
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