Value of Bay Area Working Landscapes Fuels the State’s Economic Powerhouse

Written By: Gary Quackenbush
Published: April 1, 2020

California and Bay Area statistics show the value of working landscapes as a key driver of the state’s robust economy. As the nation’s largest agricultural producer and a primary contributor to the state’s fiscal vitality, California has working landscapes that support more than 1.5 million jobs among those whose livelihoods are tied to the land. With more than 71,000 farms producing 400 different commodities, the Golden State is the nation’s most agriculturally productive and diverse region.

California’s working landscapes include farmland, ranches, forest wetlands, mines, water bodies and other natural resource lands, both private and public. From clean water and nutritious food to climate stability and outdoor recreation, they provide essential benefits for our economy, health and quality of life.

The contribution of agriculture to California’s mega-economy is enormous. Agriculture accounts for 85% of all working landscape business establishments, employs the equivalent of 81% of all working landscape jobs while paying 80% of total earnings to workers and generating 79% of sales income. The total volume of commodity sales greater than $100,000 is produced by over 27% of California farms, exceeding the national average of 20%.

According to the California Agricultural Statistics review, 2017-2018, the state is the nation’s leading producer of 75 different crops, many of which have an international reputation – and a big market – with exports exceeding $20 billion annually. 

These and other data points were revealed in a 48-page report released in November 2018 at the California Economic Summit as a joint project between the California Community Colleges Centers of Excellence (COE) in collaboration with the UC California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). 

The numbers show the value of work performed by those engaged in the state’s agricultural community as part of a total of nine industry segments across 12 California regions including: the San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast, South Coast, Southern Border, San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, Inland Empire, North Sacramento Valley, Los Angeles/Orange, Northern Sierra, the Redwood Coast and Central Sierra.  Go to ( to view the entire report.

“There have been research papers in the past, but this report was one of the most comprehensive done to date bringing together data on a variety of inter-related factors impacting the working landscape. It was followed by a two-page report focusing on mapping and valuing ecosystem services in 2019,” said Stephanie Larson, PhD, with the University of California Cooperative Extension, and the Sonoma County director and livestock and range management advisor. 

“For us, next steps involve getting $3 to $4 million in funding from the state legislature or private sources for three pilot projects. One would focus on Northern California (the Russian River watershed, fire fuel reduction and carbon sequestration), another on Central California (the San Joaquin Valley watershed and adjacent basins in the central region), and the third in Southern California (studying a number of water and food-related issues).”

The report says four Ag segments are dominant in terms of job numbers, earnings and priorities critical to creating jobs and promoting competitiveness. They include Ag distribution, Ag production, Ag processing and Ag support. These segments are major players in the state with billions of dollars in sales and earnings paid to workers. They work together to form a powerful supply chain benefiting the local, national and global economy. 

Agricultural production provided the greatest number of jobs (more than 325,000) and generated the second highest amount of sales income ($61 billion) in 2018. Agricultural support led all segments for earnings ($17.8 billion) and ranks second for most jobs and for the number of business establishments. When it comes to sales income, agricultural processing surpasses all other working landscape segments with $113 billion, nearly twice the amount of the next largest segment – agricultural production – with nearly $61 billion. 

The study looked at a total of nine industry segments, including four Ag sub-segments plus fishing, forestry, mining, outdoor recreation and renewable energy. Findings compared these data across the top 12 geographical regions of the state. 

In 2018, the nine segments collectively paid workers $85 billion in earnings and generated $333 billion in sales — one third of a trillion dollars. Agriculture’s abundance and revenue has contributed to the state’s development as the fifth largest world economy, a legacy that extends back hundreds of years. 

Historically, employment has been used as an indicator of the health of an economy.  The four Ag segments studied are economic powerhouses that collectively employ over 1.2 million people.


Several aspects of overall agriculture activity in the state were studied in an attempt to determine the impact of jobs, the number of establishments, earnings, sales income and other factors to obtain a more accurate comparison of the relative value of this sector vis a vis other industry segments and regions of the state. 

The following sections highlight numbers for the state as a whole and also show how the San Francisco Bay Area compared. The Bay Area includes Marin and Sonoma counties as well as Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano counties.

  • Ag production led the employment sector with 325,231 jobs statewide, followed by Ag support with 319,961 jobs. The Bay Area was in second place with 46,236 Ag support jobs following San Joaquin Valley with 116,917. 
  • Ag distribution provided 304,199 jobs and Ag processing had 244,399 jobs.  The Bay Area accounted for 21,980 Ag production jobs in 2018 and was in third place with 57,729 Ag processing jobs.  It ranked first for Ag processing earnings ($4.3 billion). However, for Ag processing sales, the Bay Area came in third with $25.4 billion. 
  • California’s food and beverage processing activities account for $82 billion of value and 760,000 jobs. Findings from Wines Vines Analytics indicates that there are 8,391 wineries in North America with 93% of these are in the U.S. and nearly half (45%) are in California. The state’s net production of wine accounted for 86% of total wine production in the U.S. in 2018.
  • Ag distribution and support lead the category defining numbers of business establishments, with 20,904 and 18,088 respectively for a combined total of 38,992. Ag production had 13,422 and Ag processing had 6,963 establishments.  
  • Looking at these four sectors from an earnings perspective shows Ag support heading the list with $17.9 billion, Ag distribution with $17.8 billion, Ag production with $16.2 billion and Ag processing with $16.1 billion. 
  • In terms of sales income, Ag processing income totaled $113.3 billion in 2018, followed by Ag production income with $60.9 billion, Ag distribution with $57.4 billion and Ag support with $31.9 billion. The Bay Area is in fourth place with $4.8 billion for Ag production sales. 
  • The Bay Area was in first place with Ag support earnings of $4.4 billion among the 12 top regions, and ranks second for Ag support sales with $7.3 billion.
  • The Bay Area had 57,832 Ag distribution jobs in 2018 and was in second place behind Los Angeles/Orange with 117,092. When it comes to Ag distribution earnings, the Bay Area had $3.9 billion, and was also in second place behind Los Angeles/Orange with $6.7 billion. For Ag distribution sales, the Bay Area was in second place once again with $12.5 billion.


California had 10,383 fishing-related jobs in 2018, while the Bay Area ranked in second place behind Los Angeles/Orange with 2,206 jobs. Total earnings for the fishing segment was $547 million, the lowest of the nine working landscape segments, but was listed in second place with $122 million after Los Angeles/Orange.  In like manner, for fishing sales, California had a total of $1.7 billion, and among the regions, the Bay Area was also in second place with $386 million. 

Outdoor Recreation 

With 64,600 jobs, the Bay Area reported 13,626 within this total. The segment had $2.5 billion in total statewide earnings of which the Bay Area had $648 million and was in first place. Sales in this category reached $6.3 billion with the Bay Area once again in first place with $1.7 billion. California has the largest outdoor recreation economy in the U.S.

Ecosystem Services

A brief overview of these services was also included in the report. These are ways that the natural world provides biological necessities, such as clean water, nutritious food and a livable climate, as well as indirect economic benefits, such as jobs and revenue created along food value chains. 

There are four categories of ecosystem services: provisioning (food, raw materials, medicinal resources and fresh water), regulating (air quality, climate, disease and pest and other regulations), cultural (spiritual/religious and aesthetic values, mental/physical health, recreation, etc.) and supporting ecosystem services, (including nutrient recycling, photosynthesis and soil formation, among others). 

The annual value provided by natural capital in Sonoma County, in millions of 2015 dollars, ranges from a low estimate of $2.2 billion to a high estimate of $6.6 billion for a dozen categories of ecosystem services.

“We’ve all seen what can happen when there is an underinvestment in natural systems that have become depleted leading to falling groundwater levels, a loss of productive farmland, poor air quality and declining biodiversity,” Dr. Larson said.

“A well mapped framework must be developed so the public can understand these multiple relationships and examine the array of real benefits derived from our natural resources.  I don’t think most people in their day-to-day lives appreciate what working landscapes provide to us. The goal in wanting to establish a series of pilot projects is so we can help manage, protect and preserve our working landscapes for future generations.”

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