Modified for the Internet By Imperial Valley Gateway
Agriculture and Livestock in the Imperial
Valley,Mexicali, and San Luís Río Colorado
Produced By Imperial Valley Campus
As part of our continuing series of “Economy, Environment, and Development of the Imperial Valley-Mexicali Region,” the topic of agriculture and livestock in the Imperial Valley, Mexicali, and San Luís Río Colorado areas are highlighted. Included are the executive summaries of essays by Refugio González, Eduardo Sánchez López, and Juan Guerrero and Alecsandro Rufino dos Santos which will appear in the upcoming monograph publication.
Agriculture in the Imperial Valley
Water came to the Imperial Valley desert in 1901 when the Alamo Canal, that diverted water from the Colorado River, was completed. The control of water was, and is, an important component of agriculture as well as life in the region. For example, in 1904, flood waters from the Colorado and the Gila Rivers caused a break in the Alamo Canal. The resulting floods covered a large portion of land for over two years and established the Salton Sea as a formal body of water that serves as the region's agricultural drainage basin. After the floods subsided, Imperial Valley leaders formalized the water distribution system with the development of the All American Canal and formalization of the canal system. This complex water distribution system is the basis for the Valley's agricultural-based economy. The Imperial Valley is the southeastern section of California, bordered by Arizona to the east, Mexico to the south, San Diego County to the west, and Riverside County to the north.
The desert areas of Southern California are a very significant portion of California’s and U.S. agricultural production. More than 40 types of crops and commodities are grown in the Imperial Valley with a gross value of over $1 billion in 1999. This ranks tenth among all California counties, and twelfth among all counties in the United States. Approximately one half a million acres of land are farmed in the Imperial Valley and the total farmable acres have remained fairly constant over the past decade. During the high season, approximately 25 percent of Imperial Valley’s labor force work in the Agricultural Sector. Additionally, Imperial County has more acreage and production of alfalfa than any other county in the 2 United States. It is also a major producer of lettuce, feedlot beef, melons, carrots, sudangrass hay, onions and numerous other commodities. The desert and the water that was brought to this region created a climate not easily surpassed for the production of foods and fiber. Unfortunately, with this same climate, the insect population increased dramatically. With the warm weather and nonstop production of desert agriculture, the insect world can reproduce at a rate six to eight times as fast as in other areas. In the last decade the Sweetpotato Whitefly and the Silverleaf Whitefly caused millions of dollars in losses and economically hurt the farmers as well as the whole community. In order to sustain a competitive edge, Imperial Valley farmers and the ranch community could introduce new crops, reduce acres of nonprofitable crops, grow less labor-intensive crops, and develop energy producing crops, e.g., sugarcane, sugarbeets, and eucalyptus trees. One expansion effort currently underway is the construction of a beef-processing plant in the City of Brawley, due to open in December 2001.
Refugio González, County Director University of California Cooperative Extension-Imperial Valley
Agriculture in Mexicali andSan Luís Río Colorado
The Mexicali region, located in northeast Baja California, and the municipality of San Luís Río Colorado in Sonora have become important agricultural regions due to their geography and climate, as well as the region's accessibility to water from the Colorado River. This region encompasses about 207,000 hectares of irrigable land and is guaranteed sufficient water through the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande Treaty, signed February 3, 1944 by México and the United States. This treaty allocates 65,340,397,067 cubic feet (1,850,234,000 cubic meters) of water to Mexico annually. The entire region belongs to Colorado River irrigation district number 014, which contains 23 irrigation modules but has limited societal responsibility. This organization is driven by the farmers in order to administer efficient and transparent use of the resources and is supported by the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua—CNA). CNA is the federal entity that supervises the use of hydrological resources to make sure it is appropriate.
There are two governmental agencies charged with supporting the agricultural sector: the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fish, and Alimentation (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación—SAGARPA) at the federal level, and the Secretariat of Agrocultural Promotion (Secretaría de Fomento Agropecuario—SFA) at the state level.
Both agencies have been working together cooperatively, albeit through separate programs, to apply strategies and plans that support the agricultural sector under a national program called Alliance for the Farmlands (Alianza para el Campo). This program aims to implement technology into rural production processes to increase competitiveness among agricultural and cattle producers.
Regional agricultural activities are housed in the District of Rural Development (Distrito de Desarrollo Rural), an entity established by the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources (Secretaría de Agricultura y Recursos Hidráulicos—SARH) in 1991 to bolster federal support in rural development.
Production in the Mexicali Valley and San Luís Río Colorado is abundant and varied. About forty different commercial crops are grown annually, including gramineae, oilseeds, fodder, vegetables, flower, and fruit trees. Local production is subject to two productive cycles: spring-3 summer and fall-winter. In the first cycle, cultivation of cotton is more important as determined by value, while in the second, wheat is the most important crop. The regional agricultural production in primary local crops is greater in the Mexicali Valley and
San Luís Río Colorado than the national average, giving local farmers an advantageous position when agricultural prices are low. Excessively low prices of the last three years, however, have become a problem for the agricultural sector and farmers have had to rely upon important temporary subsidies from the state and federal governments to stay in business.
Eduardo Sánchez López, Director Research Institute of Veterinary Sciences
Autonomous University of Baja California
Imperial County Livestock Industry, 1910 to the Present
Livestock has always been an integral part of the agricultural industry in Imperial County. Cattle, for example, is consistently the county's number one commodity in terms of production value. Coupled with this is the fact that between 40 and 50 percent of the Imperial Valley's irrigated acreage is dedicated to alfalfa. Alfalfa is primarily used for animal feed, both for export and in local beef steer and dairy cow feedlots. In the last several years, however, fed cattle populations have decreased in Imperial County to levels less than half of those in the early 1970s. Reasons for this decline include health concerns and a reduction in the amount of beef consumed in the United States, and high costs and slim margins inherent in much of the cattle industry. Along similar lines, in the 1960s, there were more than twenty abattoirs or slaughterhouses operating in Southern California, while only one remains today.
The Imperial Valley's sheep industry has experienced problems as well. Serious decreases in the consumption of lamb and an increase in the use of synthetic fibers over wool are two significant causes to the growing decrease in number of animals. The Valley's agricultural economy has a large dependence on the Chino dairy shed, with much of Imperial County's alfalfa and dairy cows sent there. Recently, nitrates from cattle manure have been implicated as the cause in elevated nitrate levels in groundwater of the Santa Ana River basin.
Because of increasing environmental and regulatory pressures, the dairy basin is in danger of leaving the area. Were this to happen, the negative impacts on the Imperial Valley's agricultural economy would be enormous.
Recent developments are providing positive signs for Imperial County's cattle industry. A new cattle-processing facility is currently under construction in Brawley with an estimated December 2001 start-up date. Once the new abattoir is operational, it is expected that the Imperial County cattle-feeding industry will have a tremendous rebound.
Juan N. Guerrero, Area Livestock Advisor
University of California Cooperative Extension-Imperial Valley
Alecsandro Rufino dos Santos, Graduate Research Assistant
Autonomous University of Baja California
- In 2011, Imperial County farmers produced 1,736,000 tons of hay, including alfalfa, Bermuda grass, Sudan grass and klein grass hays, making the region a vital producer of food for the state’s vast dairy industry. Dairy is the number one agricultural commodity in California, with 20% of the nation’s dairy production.
- Imperial Valley is one of California’s top five producers of spinach, potatoes, cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli and onions.
- Imperial County is home to California’s only cheese processing plant producing Swiss and Muenster cheeses.
- Imperial County is California’s number two producer of aquaculture, and is home to one of the largest catfish farms west of the Mississippi.
- Imperial County Farm Bureau is has been an integral part of Imperial Valley’s rich agricultural landscape fornearly 95 years.
- Imperial County is among the nation’s top sheep and lamb producing counties. Approximately 150,000 sheeppass through the county each year. In the 1950s and again in the 1990s, close to 350,000 sheep passed through the Valley annually.
- California produces about 13% of the nation’s total cash receipts from agriculture, but only receives about 4% of direct government payouts to agriculture. (Note: This figure does fluctuate some from year to year.)
- Imperial Valley agriculture production in 2011 generated an estimated $1,175,000,000 in personal income for California families, and an estimated $5.3 BILLION in total economic impact.
Feeding the World
- Americans are spending nearly twice as much on meals away from home than in 1970. Yet the total percent of income that is spent feeding our families has continued to decline. Americans spend about 10 percent of our income on food today, compared with about 14 percent in 1970 and about 23 percent in 1947. In comparison, Americans spend, on average, 35% of our income on taxes.
- With the increasing availability of affordable food produced by farmers and ranchers in the U.S., Americans are consuming more fruits and vegetables, more lower-fat milk, and leaner meat than we did 30 years ago.
- On average,