Kern County: Part of California’s Ag Heartland


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Kern County: Part of California’s Ag Heartland

June 26, 2024
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Kern County: Part of California’s Ag Heartland

Kern County: Part of California’s Ag Heartland

Kern County, situated in the southern part of California’s Central Valley, is a verdant expanse of unparalleled agricultural output – and this is its reputation. Often referred to as the breadbasket of the state, this region’s fertile lands and favorable climate make it a crucial player in California’s agriculture. From row crops to orchards, Kern County’s diverse agricultural portfolio not only feeds the state but significantly contributes to the national and global food supply. We had the opportunity to meet with Rachel Nettleton, Executive Director of the Kern County Farm Bureau, to learn more about the types of farms in the region.

What are the top 5 crops grown in Kern County?

Kern County is a powerhouse of agricultural production, thanks to fertile soil, a favorable Mediterranean climate, and innovative farming practices. “Kern County has a Mediterranean climate. And so what that means is we have dry summers, which is good for certain produce. We have wet, mild winters as well,”  Rachel says. 

Diverse crops in Kern County include:

young almonds growing on a farm in kern county
  • Almonds: Kern County is one of the top producers of almonds in California, with orchards stretching across the landscape. These nutrient-rich nuts are a significant export product.
  • Grapes: Both table grapes and wine grapes thrive in Kern County’s climate, contributing to the county’s reputation for high-quality produce and wines.
  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, lemons, and mandarins are some of the citrus fruits that flourish in Kern county, providing fresh citrus to local and international markets.
  • Pistachios: Another major crop, pistachios from Kern County are renowned for their quality and flavor.
  • Vegetables: Kern county also grows a variety of vegetables, including carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes.

Kern County – An Ideal Farming Climate

Kern County enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, which Rachel explains is perfect for growing certain produce. This climate allows for a long growing season with multiple planting and harvesting cycles, boosting both yield and variety. The consistent temperatures between 70°F and 95°F during the growing season are ideal for crops like grapes, almonds, and citrus fruits, as it ensures they mature well. Plus, mild winters mean there’s minimal risk of frost, which is crucial for perennial crops like almonds, pistachios, and citrus that might otherwise be severely damaged by low temperatures.

drip irrigation lines under a canopy of almond trees in an orchard in kern county

Soil, Water + Sunshine = Farming Success

Kern County’s rich soil is a big part of its farming success, thanks to nutrient-rich alluvial deposits from the Sierra Nevada. These deposits make the soil fertile and well-draining—great for growing various crops. The region’s varied soil types also help, with sandy soils perfect for root veggies like carrots and loamy soils ideal for vineyards and orchards. Kern county is in the arid Central Valley, and farmers consciously utilize advanced techniques like drip and micro-sprinklers to maximize water efficiency. Add to  efficient watering the region’s abundant sunshine and high degree growing days, and you have the quintessential environment for crops like grapes and citrus to ripen perfectly, and an agricultural powerhouse.

Kern County’s different elevations create microclimates that really boost its farming game. There are places with higher spots that are cooler and get more rain, which is great for some crops, as well as lower, hotter areas that are ideal for others. Add to this, a close proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountains which brings cooling breezes and affects rainfall – all which helps to keep temperatures in check and extend the growing season.

Thriving Dairy Farms

Cows being milked

In addition to crops, Rachel explains that Kern County is home to a thriving dairy industry. “Our top production is dairy and so we are one of the top producers here in California, as well as the nation. We are also one of the top for dairy and sustainable farming as well,” she adds.

Sustainable dairy farming practices are encouraged and supported by the Kern County Farm Bureau. These practices focus on animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and economic viability. Local dairies in Kern County are implementing advanced technologies to reduce water usage, manage waste efficiently, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts ensure that dairy farming remains a sustainable and integral part of the county’s agricultural landscape.

Nurturing Crops and Sustainability

Farmers in Kern County are at the forefront of implementing sustainable practices that positively impact the environment. “A few examples of sustainable measures we’re using here in Kern County are drip irrigation, micro sprinklers, as well as solar,” Rachel explains. “The reason our growers use these sorts of measures is because saving water, or being responsible with water, saving power, ultimately saves money. And that’s economically sustainable,” she adds.

Kern County farmers not only employ advanced irrigation systems, but protect the soil health by using cover crops and crop rotation, and investing in renewable energy technology to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, they are working to adopt precision agriculture techniques to increase crop yields and reduce waste.

underripe fruit in an orchard in kern county

Kern County – a Synergy of Climate and Innovation

The blend of Kern County’s climate and the innovative spirit of its farmers creates an unbeatable agricultural environment. Farmers here don’t just rely on natural advantages—they’re quick to adopt the latest agricultural technologies and practices.

With its Mediterranean climate, rich soil, abundant sunshine, and diverse microclimates along with smart water management, Kern County is a farming powerhouse. These factors make it perfect for growing a wide range of crops, contributing significantly to California’s agricultural success and the global food supply. The Kern County Farm Bureau also plays a crucial role by supporting farmers and in promoting sustainable agriculture in one of California’s most productive regions. 

“We want to make sure that in 20 years from now, that agriculture is sustainable for years to come and that people know of the importance of agriculture because we all eat food,” says Rachel. “It’s very important to support the farmers that we have here locally to ensure that we have some of those products that we love and enjoy at the grocery store.”

 As always, supporting local farmers is key to ensuring Kern County’s ongoing prosperity and sustainability.

Article written by Alison Needham for California Grown. Images by James Collier.

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