Grapes and Raisins
In Fresno County we grow over 350 crops, many of them grown nowhere else in the nation, at least not commercially. For example, 99 percent of the raisins in the nation come from Fresno County.
The Thompson Seedless is still the number one raisin grape, as it has been for about 100 years!
Raisins, wine, table grapes, are produced from the Thompson Seedless and almost every road leading into and out of Fresno has grapes growing alongside it. There are of course, many other varieties of grapes for all three uses. Flames and Rubies for table grapes, plus some new varieties just coming into commercial production. Zinfandel and French Columbard wine grapes lead a parade of A-Z varietals flourishing in our valley sun
There are also over 20 raisin processors plus scores of packing facilities and several wineries in and around Fresno, handling all the varied vineyard poduction.
Most of the nation's supply comes from Fresno County, although urban sprawl is taking its toll on acreage, primarily along Shaw and Herdon west of Blackston, plus areas north of Clovis. The Calimyrna variety is the major variety produced here. Annual production accounts for over 2,000 tons.
Like grapes, and figs... and a hundred others, cotton is a fall-harvested crop. It is planted in late March and through April, and is grown on both sides of the valley. Large acreages are found west of southwest of Fresno from Kerman, along Highway 180, and near Five Points and west to Coalinga. Cotton production in Fresno County averages almost a million bales a year.
Alfalfa is cut seven times a year(in a good year) and accounts for over 500,000 tons in most years. It too can be found in varying size plots... a few to a few hundred acres, on both the east and westside of the valley.
Fresno County also leads the nation in seed alfalfa production, and this can be identified by the lavender flowers atop the bight green-leafed stems.
Primarily and eastside crop found east along Highway 180 and northeast along 168 north of Clovis. Output in recent years has grown to nearly 500,000 tons for Naval oranges, Valencia oranges, Tangerine/Mandarins and other citrus. The Naval orange harvest starts in mid-November, with Valencias being picked around May 1st through the summer months.
A percentage of oranges also goes to by-products and processing, as winter frosts can cause some losses.
Peaches, Plums, Nectarines, and Apricots, Too!
The late spring through summer favorites are found all around the eastside of the valley, with a combined output of approximately 450,000 tons. Roadside fruit stands feature a good supply of these in the summer months. Various packing facilities, handle these fresh fruits every day.
Almonds can be found along many roadways leading out of Fresno. Over 50,000 tons are harvested annually. Locations include Belmont just east of Fowler Avenue and Whitesbridge west of Hayes and several hundred acres on the westside near 198 and I-5.
Walnuts produced about 5,000 tons last year. Trees are easily recognized by the white painted, or grafted trunks.
A fairly recent arrival in commercial tonnage is Pecans. A good area of planting can be seen along Shepherd Avenue, east of Willow (northeast of Fresno heading toward Millerton).
Another new arrival which is in commercial production is the Pistachio. Plantings are scattered. There are some along Reed Avenue south of Annadale and some on Ashlan east of Fowler. Almost 6,500 tons are produced annually.
Canning Tomatoes and Cantaloupes
Westside, mid-summer items are grown on large acreage to meet a large demand. Late July and early August are the beat times to see these items being harvested. There are several melon 'sheds' in the Mendota, Huron and Firebaugh areas of western Fresno County.
Ten years ago, anyone promoting fresh vegetables on the westside would have been laughed out of town! Today, it's a reality with thousands of acres of garlic, onions, fresh market tomatoes (plus canning tomatoes), head lettuce (fall and spring), broccoli, green hot peppers, and sweet corn, all vying for space in the westside soils. A journey to Five Points and southwest toward Coalinga or south of Five Points toward Huron, will give the visitor an incredible array of the varieties.
Many thousands of acres are also found near Mendota and Firebaugh.
The eastside is the home of the traditional cow-calf operations, and Farm Bureau members account for an active industry in cattle. Sheep can be found grazing the westside hills and rangeland, especially near Coalinga.
The Harris Feedlot on the road to Coalinga at the intersection of I-5 is one of the largest in the valley and the west. The county also supports a multi-million dollar Dairy Industry.
Not all dairy cows are black and white
Holstein cows are the most popular of all breeds. The vast majority of cows in California are the black and white Holstein. Holstein’s are known for providing the most milk production of any breed. Holsteins originated in what is now the Netherlands and more specifically in the two northern provinces of North Holland and Friesland.
Jerseys are the second most popular California breed. While they produce less milk than Holsteins, the fawn-colored Jerseys are popular for their extremely high butterfat content. They are the smallest of the breeds and extremely docile, which makes them easier to handle. They were originally bred on the British Channel Island of Jersey. Jerseys are very tolerant of heat, and are often the breed of choice in hot climates.
Brown Swiss are the largest animal of the five major breeds. They originally were used for draft work, beef production and dairy production. Today, Brown Swiss are used primarily for dairy production and second behind Holsteins in production. They are probably the oldest of the cow breeds and are extremely docile. They originated in the Alps of Switzerland and were bred to be extremely resistant to harsh weather conditions.
Guernseys are known for high butterfat content and for withstanding harsh weather conditions. The Guernsey breed originated in the British channel island of Guernsey, and was brought over to the U.S. in the 1860s. Their color is from a light fawn to red, with white markings on the legs, flank and the face with some white on the body. Their skin is yellow.
Ayrshires are known as a durable breed. Ayrshires are known for being able to maintain production through harsh weather conditions. The Ayrshire breed originated in Ayrshire of Scotland. Ayrshires are the opposite of Jerseys and Brown Swiss in that they tend to have a much more nervous and active demeanor. Ayrshires have red and white markings.
Strawberries are produced in mid-May and early June, with the best examples found at various roadside stands in and around Fresno, and other county communities. The same for fresh vegetables, sold in season at various locations.
Another primarily westside crop is sugarbeets which are processed locally at the Spreckles plant, just outside of Mendota.
Research plots on all the basic items can be seen at University of California research stations, like Kearney, at Manning and Riverbend near Parlier and the West Side Station, just south of Five Points.
More and more these days, apple orchards are appearing around the county, with the popular Granny Smith, Fuji and Gala dominating the acres planted to apples. In 1997, Fresno County produced over 50,000 tons of apples. And perhaps as new as the growing of apples in the valley, is the way they're grown., with some unusual trellising being tried. A good example of this is on Chestnut, between Barstow and Bullard in the Fresno State University campus and also on Academy at McKinley and along Jensen east towards Sanger.