Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/December 1893/The Fruit Industry in California
|THE FRUIT INDUSTRY IN CALIFORNIA.|
IT seems to me that an account of the present condition of the fruit industry in California would be of economic value, provided that it were entirely free from the advertising element. By the "advertising element" I mean that very natural and almost irrepressible desire of a resident of any portion of this magnificent country to attract others to his particular district. There ought to be some way of presenting statistical and other facts relating to one department of horticulture in a given American State, in exactly the same spirit that an expert upon cotton manufacture would arrange the statistics of the mills of Massachusetts.
A considerable area of California lands is planted to orchards and vineyards. Some of these, as with other human enterprises, are profitable, and some are unprofitable; but all are producing fruit, most of which finds its way in some shape to markets outside the State. The range of these fruit products is very great, and many American producers, as well as those of Europe and other parts of the world, feel the competition of this food supply. An immense number of consumers, as well as this army of rival producers, must wish to obtain statistics of the California industry under consideration. The following article is an attempt to present the facts of a great fruit-growing industry so plainly that all its departments can be understood by the reader.
First, let us examine the best available statistics of the area planted, and the kinds of fruit used. These are much more complete now than when the officers of the last national census attempted to collect them from county officials, because competent agents of the State Board of Horticulture, themselves fruit-growers, spent the greater part of last year in making a "house-to-house canvass." They asked every man who owned an orchard to write down the number of acres he had in fruit trees, and classified the result, in many cases, by actual inspection of the orchard. The mass of details is of course too ponderous to be printed here, but the results can be analyzed so as to justify presentation in a series of tables. There are several ways of possible classification, but I can think of nothing better than to take the principal fruit-growing counties, give their areas and the acreage now planted, arranging the fruits reported upon in four divisions—the citrus and semitropic species, the nut-bearing Cluster of Uvaria. Olives.
(One half natural diameter.) trees, the ordinary deciduous fruits, and lastly the vines and small fruits.
The principal citrus and semitropic fruits grown in California are the fig, olive, lemon, and orange. The citron of commerce flourishes, but has not been much planted, and the lime does well in some districts. The pomegranate is in many gardens, but few commercial orchards exist, and the same is true of the loquat and guava. Here and there in sheltered, frostless places are the beginnings of some small plantations of pineapples, bananas, and date palms, and a few specimens of cherimoya, granadilla, alligator pear, jujube, melon shrub, chayota, the best species of opuntia, and other tropic and semitropic fruits that are being tested on a very small scale. Easily first, and type of the whole class, is the orange. It is commercially grown to the extent of a hundred acres or more in fifteen counties of California; eight counties contain over five hundred acres apiece. The acreage of the new county of Riverside, created by the last Legislature, is necessarily included in San Bernardino, and that of Kings County in Tulare.
Table I. Acreage of Semitropic Fruits.
|Total (8 counties)||61,802||5,880||11,306||3,161|
The forty-five remaining counties of the State contain acreages as follows: Oranges, 1,559; olives, 3,394; lemons, 1,090; figs, 3,119. Adding these totals, we obtain the area of the semitropic orchards of California, according to the latest and most reliable data. There are 64,361 acres of oranges, 9,274 acres of olives, 12,396 acres of lemons, and 5,280 acres of figs. The entire acreage devoted to the semitropic fruits above classified is 91,311. No reasonable allowance for small orchards overlooked would be likely to bring this total to much more than 95,000 acres. Studying the table, we
observe that the leading orange-growing counties are San Bernardino and Los Angeles; the leading fig county is Los Angeles, with Santa Barbara very close, but both still under the thousand acre mark; the leading olive counties are San Diego and Santa Barbara, and the leading lemon counties are San Diego and Los Angeles. Placer, Butte, Sacramento, and Yuba are the only counties in the Sacramento Valley and northern Sierra foothills that have a hundred acres of oranges; Fresno, Stanislaus, and Tulare, in the San Joaquin Valley, have also barely commenced the culture of semitropic fruits. But the industry is more at home in the Coast Range valleys from Santa Barbara south and southeast. There, also, it is of longer growth, three out of four trees being in bearing, while in the counties that have but lately begun to plant semitropic fruits more than half the orchards have not yet fruited to any extent. The beginnings of fig and olive orchards are more generally distributed throughout the State than are lemon and orange orchards. Classified from this standpoint, the lemon is represented by one or more acres in thirty counties, the orange in thirty-eight, the fig in forty-two, and the olive in forty-four.
Deciduous fruits cover a very wide range, both in variety and distribution. The apple, apricot, cherry, peach, prune, and pear are the principal deciduous fruits grown in California. There are some nectarine and quince orchards, and the Japanese persimmon is planted to some extent. Many other deciduous fruit trees find place in family orchards and experimental grounds, but those named comprise all that are of commercial value at the present time.
A complete table of the deciduous fruit acreage by counties would include every one of the fifty-three. The apple, for instance, is grown everywhere. The peach and prune better represent the deciduous fruits. A unit of one hundred acres would force us to classify some forty-five counties. Even five hundred acres as a unit would list twenty-nine counties; but, by raising it to a thousand acres, we include all, or nearly all, of the famous deciduous fruit districts.
Table II.—Acreage of Deciduous Fruits.
|Total (16 counties)||9,224||21,949||5,045||43,993||17,836||39,197|
The remaining thirty-seven counties of the State contain acreages as follows: Apples, 10,753; apricots, 8,176; cherries, 1,883; peaches, 11,007; pears, 5,906; prunes and plums, 15,445. Adding these totals, we obtain the area of the deciduous orchards. There are 19,977 acres of apples, 30,125 acres of apricots, 6,928 acres of cherries, 55,000 acres of peaches, 23,742 acres of pears, and 54,642 acres of prunes and plums.
The deciduous fruits lead in acreage and value of products all other branches of California horticulture; and as the above table
plainly shows, the same concentration of each separate variety of fruit in some particular district is manifest everywhere. There are apple counties, peach counties, prune counties, and always will be, although some changes will take place in a decade or two. Peaches, prunes, and apricots occupy nearly three fourths of the acreage. The cherry orchards, although covering the smallest area, are more profitable, and give employment to more laborers, in proportion to acreage, than any others of the class. The greater part of the apple crop is consumed at home, but all the other fruits must find their chief market outside the State.
In addition to the acreage already tabulated, there are 1,080 acres of nectarines, 300 acres of quinces, and about 100 acres of Japan persimmons. This makes a grand total of 191,894 acres devoted to this class of fruits. Statistics are somewhat incomplete for some of the mountain counties, but it will not be safe to add more than five per cent, and we can then say in round numbers that 200,000 acres are planted with the deciduous fruits.
The leading apple counties of the State are Sonoma, Los Angeles, Siskiyou, Santa Cruz, San Diego, and Humboldt. Nothing could better illustrate the extent to which the climate of California is modified by local conditions. San Diego is the most southern county, Siskiyou is the most northern, and they are separated from each other by more than seven hundred miles, but both contain great apple-growing districts. The leading apricot counties are Solano, Alameda, and Los Angeles. The cherry is chiefly grown in Alameda and Santa Clara. The peach industry has been most completely developed in Santa Clara, Solano, Los Angeles, Tulare, Butte, and Tehama. Nectarines are mostly planted in Sonoma and Alameda. Plums and prunes seem to belong chiefly to Santa Clara, Tulare, Alameda, and Solano. Lastly, the great pear districts are in Sacramento, Solano, Alameda, and Los Angeles. The Coast Range lowlands and foothills, together with a few districts in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, produce the bulk of all the deciduous fruits.
Third among the horticultural divisions that I have thought it desirable to tabulate are the nut-bearing trees, comparatively small in present acreage, but likely to become more and more important industries. The nuts grown on a commercial scale are only two, the almond and the walnut. The chestnut, pistachio, filbert, pecan, and a few others have been planted to some extent. The following table shows the counties that have 1,000 acres and upward of either almonds or walnuts:
Table III.—Acreage of Nut-hearing Trees.
The remaining forty-nine counties only bring the total of almond trees in the State to 9,400 acres and that of walnuts to 14,912 acres. One can easily see how limited are the districts as yet devoted to these products. Three almond counties—Butte, Solano, and Alameda—contain nearly one half of the total acreage of the State; four walnut counties—Ventura, Orange, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara contain more than four fifths of all the trees planted. The almond, however, is grown to some extent in forty-six counties and the walnut in forty-five. Italian chestnuts, pecans, and filberts have been planted to the extent of perhaps 100 acres. This makes the total acreage of nut-bearing trees in the State 24,413. It is not likely that more than 100 or 200 acres were overlooked. In round numbers there may possibly be 25,000 acres in this class of trees.
The last division contains the grapes and small fruits. Wine and raisin grapes have been very carefully tabulated each year, but table grapes with less attention to details, and small fruits not at all until recently. The grape industry is mostly carried on in the fourteen counties represented by the following table:
Table IV.—Acreage of Grapes.
|County.||Wine grapes.||Raisin grapes.||Table grapes.|
|Sonoma||22,351||. . . . .||427|
|Total (14 counties)||76,903||70,077||11,972|
The total acreage of wine grapes is 91,428; that of raisin grapes is 81,773; and that of table grapes is 18,732. Besides, the area devoted to small fruits, as far as can be ascertained, is 5,081 acres. Alameda, Sacramento, and San Joaquin contain over three fifths of the small-fruit area of the State.
Returning to grapes, the results are obtained from the statistics of the State Viticultural Commissioners' Report of 1891, with the figures for a few missing counties filled in from other reliable sources. As in previous tables, the chief centers of each department of the industry are easily recognized. Table grapes are of especial importance in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Solano, and Los Angeles, in which counties more than half the table grapes are found. Two counties of the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno and Tulare, have planted five eighths of the total raisin-grape area of the State. Three wine counties—Sonoma, Napa, and Santa Clara—contain five ninths of the total wine-grape area.
In round numbers, then, the fruit and vine acreage of California in October, 1893, is as follows:
|Citrus and semitropic||95,000|
Having ascertained the total acreage, the approximate number of fruit-bearing plants of the kinds tabulated can be readily found. Orchardists set trees at different distances apart according to the soil and the variety: 12' 12', 15' 15', 18' 18', and 20' 20' can be found within a mile of each other. Walnuts and other strong growing trees are often set 30' 30', with cultivated crops planted between for a few years. The above systems of planting give respectively the following number of trees to the acre: 302, 193, 134, 108, and 48. Of course, there are many other planting distances in general use. The ordinary rule of multiplying the acreage by 100 has never seemed to me sufficiently accurate, and I should choose 150 as more nearly representative of the orchards of to-day. Grapevines are planted 4' 6' in the case of some varieties, and 4' 8', 6' 6', and 8' 8' in ordinary vineyards. These distances give the following numbers of plants to the acre: 1,815, 1,361, 1,210, and 680; about 1,200 is probably a fair average.
Tabulated, with a fair allowance for the acreage planted in the spring of 1893, the sum of the whole matter is as follows:
|Number of trees on 320,000 acres||48,000,000|
|Number of vines, etc., on 200,000 acres||240,000,000|
|Trees and vines of the plant of 1893 (about)||7,500,000|
|Total number of plants (about)||295,500,000|
What is the gross yield from these trees? Like wheat, or any other staple crop, the average per acre is very much less than one would expect.
There are often such heavy losses from late frosts, drought, insect pests, and fungoid diseases that only a person of more than ordinary intelligence can successfully manage large orchard interests. The average orchard, like the average farm, just about makes a fair living for an industrious man. That this is true can be easily shown by the following figures, and deductions from them:
Orchard and Vineyard Products in 1891.
|Total shipment, in pounds||386,972,884|
It requires not less than 600,000,000 pounds of fresh fruits, besides the nuts, to produce the above results. In round figures, then, 600,000,000 pounds represent the fruit surplus of the State, in the departments of deciduous fruits, citrus fruits, raisins, and table grapes. In addition there was a surplus of
|Olive oil (eases)||12,088|
Now, there are in California about 500,000 acres of the trees and vines which produce these 600,000,000 pounds of fresh fruit. That is 1,200 pounds to the acre, worth in the orchard from twelve to forty dollars, the average gross value of the crop from an acre of fruit. Of course, many of the trees are not yet in bearing, and some fruit-growers will always have far better returns than this. But the above average is very significant. It shows plainly that the industry can not exist upon a lower average price than one cent a pound for fruit in the orchard. But if the present orchards were in full bearing there might come an especially favorable season which would give a total, even without further planting, of fully 1,500,000,000 pounds. If there are 50,000 acres planted every year, and the old orchards are kept up, the present acreage will be doubled by 1901.But, to show what has been done under favorable circumstances, I give the following statement of the yield of a 700 acre San Joaquin Valley irrigated orchard in 1890:
Yield of 700 Acre Orchard.
This is a well-authenticated yield of nearly 3,000,000 pounds from the orchard, or, to be more exact, within a fraction of 4,246 pounds to the acre. This fruit was sold for $84,365.01, or $130 per acre, gross receipts. The annual product of the 1,300 acres of vines and trees upon this ranch is confidently expected to be 10,000,000 pounds of fresh fruit when every acre comes into bearing, and that is practicable under first-class management. Ignorance or neglect would ruin both orchard and vineyard, however, in less than three years. The average yield per acre, as previously shown, is only 1,200 pounds, but here is a tract of 700 acres, not in full bearing, that gives three and a half times as much. By obtaining the highest possible price, the estimated possible sale of about $45 per acre (when the yield was 1,500 pounds) has been raised in this case to $120 per acre. Should the whole 1,200 acres ultimately yield 10,000,000 pounds, the average per acre will be more than four tons of green fruit, the increase being largely in the item of grapes. Four tons per acre, at a uniform price of one cent a pound, would yield $80, as against the average value of the State crop at that price, $13 per acre.
If the 200,000 acres of deciduous fruits in the State could be made to yield at the rate of this irrigated San Joaquin Valley orchard, the product would now be about 850,000,000 pounds of fresh fruit. The same acreage in full bearing at the expected average would reach the enormous yield of 1,660,000,000 pounds. If the semitropic fruits and vineyards could be depended upon to yield in like proportion, it is safe to say that the fruit supply of the world would be more than provided for, and the transportation facilities of the great railroad lines would be overburdened. But horticulture, like agriculture, is subject to drawbacks and limitations. Orchards and vineyards, exactly the same as corn fields and wheat fields, give only a low general average. The industry of fruit-growing is established upon a solid foundation and is very prosperous, but the whole yield of the State can never be made proportionate to the yield obtained under exceptional circumstances.
The acreage and yield of the orchards and vineyards have now been ascertained. The cash value of the total output can not be as closely calculated. Floating estimates vary even more than the floating estimates of the acreage. Healthy, well-managed orchards probably average gross sales of $100 per acre, taking all classes of fruit together, and one season with another, but there are no reliable statistics of this side of the industry. Returning to an estimate of a present surplus of 600,000,000 pounds of fresh fruit, this at two cents (the average value in the orchards one year
with another) would yield the growers $12,000,000 and would probably cost the consumer $36,000,000. This does not include the value of the product of the wine grapes. It only represents the output of the gold mine of the orchards. Commercially, of course, the volume of business created is represented by the cost to the consumer.
Studies of the future of an industry are seldom useful. Planting of trees and vines continues steadily, and if there is a demand the present output can be indefinitely increased. It is believed by the best horticultural authorities that fruit, in various forms, will become more and more a great food staple, used by the masses of the people, and that new markets for the enormous output can be developed from time to time in the United States and in Europe. Like wheat, a staple, fruit in the future will not make fortunes nor "pay for a ranch in one year," but will give safe, steady returns upon the labor and capital invested.
The extensive area that might be devoted to fruit culture, if the demand justified such a use, can be seen by the following figures: San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties, all noted for their semitropic fruits, contain 20,913,000 acres, or in round numbers one fourth the area of the State. Fresno, Kern, and Tulare, the great irrigated counties of the San Joaquin Valley, famous for their vineyards and deciduous fruit orchards, contain 14,737,000 acres. The rich and beautiful fruit counties of Alameda, Butte, Placer, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, and Ventura, added to the above, bring the total area to nearly 50,000,000 acres. It need not be supposed that all these immense districts can be cultivated. There are deserts and barren mountains, as well as fertile valleys, plains, and hillsides. But if only one third of the area of these counties is capable of being cultivated, and if only one third of the cultivated acreage is used for fruits, these counties alone can produce, when their orchards are in full bearing, twenty times as much fruit as the present entire yield of the State. The future of the fruit industry of California depends upon the growth of the demand for fruit products. All the other conditions are favorable for the development of the business, but the problem of the possible demand can only be solved by continuing to plant trees, gather fruit, and send it to the markets of the world.
The picturesque side of California fruit-growing is very attractive and must long remain so. Just now everything is in the creative stage: vineyards and orchards are being extended along the valleys and up the slopes; the cabins of pioneers are giving place to modern cottages and stately dwellings; villages are fast becoming towns; and towns are rising to the rank of cities. Only about the old missions can one find orchards that deserve to be called venerable, as measured by European standards. Take out a few old trees of olive, fig, orange, and pear, and all that is left are less than forty years old.
Blossoming springtime in these great orchards is charming, as almonds, apricots, peaches, and all the rest of the deciduous fruit trees come into flower over square miles. The very roadsides are sometimes covered with drifts of petals blown from the overhanging boughs. Loquats ripen and are fit to market almost before the last apple blossoms are gone in the orchards; cherries come next, then the early apricots and plums; the procession goes on month after month, even after the leaves fall. Late apples, pears, and Japanese persimmons mark the California December, mingling as they do with the ripening oranges and lemons and a few figs hanging on the leafless trees.
Although the details of the orchard work vary considerably in different parts of California, the more important elements are much the same everywhere. The winter work of pruning is succeeded by the spring work of cultivation and the summer work of harvest. A highly organized system has been developed; laborsaving machinery is used to a great and increasing extent; and the actual cost of producing a pound of fruit can be proved to have lessened every year. One hesitates to say how cheaply fruit can be grown under favorable circumstances by intelligent Americans who know the business. Men are becoming rich at prices that ten years ago would have seemed ruinous. Of course, there is a limit to the process of cheapening production, but the end is still far off. The planting and culture of orchards; the thinning of green fruit; the gathering, handling, packing, shipping, and marketing of ripe fruit; the canning, drying, preserving, and other methods of utilizing fruit products—all these are in a process of continuous evolution.
The foregoing glimpses of the subject indicate more than the beginnings of a great industry. Whoever visits California will see surprisingly vast and imposing results in concrete forms. Valley after valley, town after town live by the toil of the orchardist and vineyardist. The sight is a cheering one, because successful fruit culture requires a high degree of skill and intelligence, a thickly settled rural community, and especial facilities for communication with all that these things imply. The road-improvement societies are little needed in California fruit colonies. Sometimes the macadamized and sprinkled highways extend six or eight miles out of the town to the very edge of the orchards; then, as the wheat fields are reached, they degenerate into very ordinary country roads.
But the educational requirements of this specialized industry extend into new departments of science, and are continually developing so rapidly that only a few trained observers can take note of the advance. Horticulture, applied to the daily needs of such industries as I have described, leaves its servants no time to dream dreams about possibilities of orchard life a century or even a decade hence. Multitudes of perplexing problems of culture and management arise, but two great tasks are always with the educated orchardist or vineyardist. One, briefly stated, is, "Can I produce new and vastly superior varieties by fertilization and scientific study of the laws of heredity and variation applied to plants?" The answer is, "Yes; there is no assignable limit to the capacity of our cultivated fruits, and of fruits still wild, to improve and develop new characteristics."
The second great task relates to the ceaseless struggle with the lower forms of animal and vegetable life which prey upon useful forms in immeasurable and innumerable hosts. Gophers and jack-rabbits are now only pests of minor importance in thickly settled orchard-districts, but the warfare of the horticulturist
with fungoid diseases and parasitic insects long ago passed its amusing stage. It is a serious business of importance to the whole human race, because whatever threatens the food supply threatens the life of man. The practical applications of skill and capital in the field of preventive and remedial agencies have been remarkable. Every successful Californian fruit-grower has now learned that he must as regularly treat his trees for scale and other inflictions as he must plow his land, thin the fruit, or gather the crop. At the spraying season in the fruit districts it is literally true that the odor of the various preparations used to destroy insect life is universal for miles and for days at a time. Nine tenths of the discussions in the innumerable local clubs of fruit-growers that are doing so much for the practical advance of the industry in California are discussions upon methods Almond Bough in July. for the destruction of these pests. Sometimes one sees hundreds of acres of orchard, in February, snow-white over every inch of twig, with "salt and lime wash," or other acres are brown with sulphite of soda or oil and alkali. Now and then comes an orchard where the remedies have been used in too great strength, and the buds and tender bark seem blighted and blackened.
The prevailing enemy of the orchards is the insect family Coccidæ. The species that do most harm are the oyster-shell scale (Mytilaspis pomorum), the pernicious scale (Aspidiotus perniciosus), the yellow orange scale (Aspidiotus citrinus), the red orange scale (Aonidia aurantii), and the apricot scale (Lecanium armeniacum). The Florida red scale (Aspidiotus ficus) and the mining scale (Chionaspis biclavis), a very dangerous species from Tahiti, are being quarantined against by the horticultural commissioners. A cargo of 325,000 orange trees infested with the Tahiti species was once destroyed by Mr. Craw, the quarantine officer of the State Board. Another group of scale insects known as "cottony scales" (Icerya and Dactylopius) are among the worst enemies of the orchardist. Aphides, canker worms, caterpillars, and fungoid diseases are as yet of much less immediate danger to the fruit-growers than the various Coccidæ of which I have named only the prominent species.
Many valuable formulas for summer and winter washes, for kerosene emulsions, and other preparations were first used in California. The hydrocyanic-acid-gas method is also a Californian invention. Derricks and tents are used in this gas treatment, and it solves many difficulties in the way of using washes and the spray system on the citrus fruit trees. The city of Riverside owns several complete sets of the necessary apparatus, and rents at a nominal rate to fruit-growers, who hire operators and furnish the necessary chemicals. Since this is not a technical treatise, however, I must refer students of the perpetual struggle going on in California between the orchardist and his insect enemies to the publications of the Agricultural Department of the State University and of the State Board of Horticulture. Here, in thousands of pages, the story is told in every detail. There is not only an active warfare going on against insect foes, but various predaceous and parasitic insects that destroy dangerous species have been called to the aid of the horticulturist.
In conclusion, one must ask, "How goes the fight?" The statistics of the fruit industry answer this question. The cost of destroying insect pests has become a permanent item of expense, the results of which are increased profits. Care and management of orchards now include preparation of the soil; selection of varieties adapted to the place; planting and culture of the trees; pruning, according to different systems for different species and localities; the use of special fertilizers, and the destruction of noxious insect life. The various coccids that infest the California orchard valleys are only to be found in dangerous numbers upon the orchards of the careless or the ignorant fruit-growers. Their multiplication is readily and safely checked on as large a scale as desired, and at a cost paid many times over by the increased crop. Sometimes, for several seasons and over large districts, the coccids disappear, but they return, and renewed expenditures of time and skill are necessary to conquer them again. The expense lessens, however, and the certainty of success increases, year after year as the fruit-grower becomes a specialist. Does this appear too difficult? It is the same old demand for intellect, inherent in the order of things. Horticulture in every division is a science as well as an art, and it more and more amply rewards the technical skill of the well-equipped specialist.