It all began with the historic Gold Rush, which started on Jan. 24, 1848, when one James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, Calif. (Eureka!, as California’s state motto aptly exclaims, which means “I have found it” in ancient Greek.)
Not all of the estimated 300,000 prospectors who flocked to California back then, hoping to strike it rich, found gold…the precious metal, that is. When disillusioned miners had their fill of the grueling gold fields, some found an ideal environment for launching a more promising new career, namely raising a golden commodity, wheat.
“California’s great expanses of fertile soil and flat terrain combined with a climate of rainy winters and hot, dry summers were perfect for growing wheat,” explain colleagues Alan Olmstead, PhD, a distinguished research professor in the Department of Economics at the University of California, Davis (UC, Davis) and Paul Rhode, PhD, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “By the mid-1850s, the state’s wheat output exceeded local consumption.”
Thus, California’s status as the nation’s leading agricultural and food manufacturing powerhouse was set in motion.
Fast forward to 2016.
The Gold Rush may have waned by 1855, but ever-popular California is the most populous state in the U.S., with some 38.8 million people (roughly 11.8 million more than the second most populous state, Texas, with its 26.96 million residents.).
“In recent years, this one state alone has accounted for one-tenth of the value of the nation’s agricultural output,” Drs. Olmstead and Rhode emphasize.
California’s agricultural abundance currently includes more than 400 commodities grown, including better than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) California Agricultural Production Statistics (CAPS).
This whopping number of food items (and people) creates a great need for outstanding food quality and safety systems, and the Golden State shines in this regard.
The year 1993 was another landmark year for California. That’s when the Golden State knocked off Wisconsin, the nation’s long-standing “America’s Dairyland,” from its perch in the number one spot among U.S. “white gold” (milk, of course) producers. California has been the leading dairy state since then. It’s ranked first in the U.S. in number of dairy cows, with some 1,775,000 head, and also in the production of total milk, with 40.8 billion pounds produced in 2015, providing about 20 percent of the nation’s total milk supply.
“This equates to more than 13 million gallons of milk produced every day that is processed into a variety of dairy products distributed not only in California, but throughout the country and around the world,” says Stephen Beam, PhD, chief of the CDFA Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch.
As California’s leading commodity in cash receipts, the state’s dairy industry also ranks first nationally in the production of butter, ice cream, nonfat dry milk, and whey protein concentrate, according to the CDFA, and is second in cheese production after Wisconsin. Approximately 44 percent of all of California milk goes to make California cheese.
“In addition to some of the largest milk products plants in the nation that utilize the most advanced milk processing technologies, California has an active artisan farmstead cheese-making sector, a large number of small ice cream manufacturers, and growing interest in the development of local food sources and agricultural sales,” Dr. Beam relates.
The CDFA’s Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch is charged with ensuring that California’s dairy products are safe, wholesome, and of the highest quality for consumers, Dr. Beam notes. “The food safety oversight of CDFA, therefore, protects consumers not just within the state, but wherever California’s milk products are sold in national and international markets,” he emphasizes.