California’s working landscape makes $333-billion impact on state economy

700 300 Nadine Ono

California’s “working landscape” represents the sixth largest economic sector in the state, outpacing the healthcare, real estate and construction industries. That’s according to a recent report issued by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).

“That’s going surprise an awful lot of people, because too many folks here in California just really take our working landscapes for granted,” said ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston, speaking at the California Economic Summit in Fresno earlier this month. Besides traditional agriculture, working landscapes includes fishing, forestry, mining, outdoor recreation and renewable energy.

The report showed that in 2018, direct sales of agriculture contributed more than $263 billion to the state economy and employed 1.2 million people benefitting both rural and urban regions.

“We’re going to share this report and these numbers far and wide in the hopes that we can convince policy makers far and wide,” added Humiston. “We’ve got to make investments in these working landscapes. They’re critical to the state’s economy.”

The report only includes direct sales of agriculture and does not include the value of the ecosystem, which could double the value of this sector. And when all areas of the working landscapes are taken into account, the economic impact to the state increases to $333 billion in sales and employment of 1.5 million people, numbers that benefit both rural and urban regions.

Humiston participated in Working Landscapes and Ecosystem Vitality working group at the California Economic Summit, where civic, business and community leaders gathered to discuss and create solutions for this sector. Priorities from the working group included:

San Joaquin Valley Water Sustainability

  • Work together to establish guiding principles, goals, and outcomes for water sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley.

Land Use and Groundwater

  • Build multi-stakeholder support to lobby for sustained funding for regional training and technical assistance for local leadership to bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to identify and plan multi-benefit recharge projects and design multi-benefit project planning and implementation grants that align application deadlines and expedite contract approval.

Ecosystem Services

  • Participants will support an effort to fund a statewide open source decision support tool for ecosystem services in California.

Looking forward, additional economic growth can be found in advanced wood products using biomass that is currently overcrowding the state’s forests. This could have positive results for both the economy and the environment.

“There’s probably almost a dozen ‘wins,’” explained Humiston. “Better, healthier forests, less fire, more water will come from those forests, better outdoor recreation and better wildlife habitat. Then you get into the jobs and economic development.” She added that buildings made from advanced wood products are more energy efficient, more structurally sound in an earthquake and better are sequestering carbon.

“It is gratifying to see such a comprehensive study,” California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “It’s much more than just agricultural production – it’s the full range of products, services and jobs, and it all starts with dedicated stewardship of lands that sustain us.”

For Humiston, this report sends a valuable message to not only the agriculture industry, but to those invested in California’s economy. “If people start understanding the importance of working landscapes to the state’s economy, I have to hope we’re going to get folks willing to invest in it much more than they have in the past.”


Nadine Ono

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