Masters Thesis

Agua(cate): Resource Scarcity, Systems Resilience, and Avocado Agriculture in San Diego County, California

Balikian, R. (2016) Agua(cate): Resource Scarcity, Systems Resilience, and Avocado Agriculture in San Diego County, California. Masters Thesis. University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Farmland loss decreases the economic and ecological diversity of landscapes along the urban fringe. In the United States, farmland loss has remained steady at over a million acres per year since 1960, about 2.5% of farmland every decade. Much of the land being lost is being converted to urban uses and especially threatens the production of high-value or specialty crops. San Diego County is considered an urban county, but has more farms than any other county in the United States, with over 5,700 operations. San Diego County is losing farmland at the extremely high rate of 8.4% every year, much of that land considered “prime.” This land is also among the most productive farmland in the United States in terms of crop production value, and is some of the last remaining land in agriculture in southern California. This thesis takes a transdisciplinary, systems approach to identify and describe the factors driving system change in the agricultural production sector in San Diego County, especially among avocado growers. Stakeholder interviews and a survey of avocado growers were supplemented by secondary data to examine the issues at stake. Water-resource related issues—especially the cost of water—were identified as the most important issues facing avocado growers, but socioeconomic drivers and environmental drivers were identified as well, including land resources, drought conditions, tax laws, zoning ordinances, institutional and contractual arrangements, free trade, and commodity markets.


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