Imperial County agriculture: a national asset

Alfalfa is one of Imperial County’s leading field crops that is harvested year-round.

IMPERIAL COUNTY – Despite the hundred plus degree weather and the perceivably barren desert landscape, beneath the sterile appearance of Imperial County lies miles of flourishing farmland that produces over two-thirds of the United States’ vegetable consumption during the winter months, according to the Imperial County Farm Bureau.

Alluvium deposits (deposits of clay, silt, sand, and gravel left by flowing streams) derived from the Colorado River flood plain fertilize the soil allowing over 13 percent of the nation’s total cash receipts from agriculture to be cultivated here locally.

Alfalfa hay is a three to five year crop harvested year-round and planted from mid-September to mid-December, then again in February and through the first week of April.

According to the U.S. Census, alfalfa is the number one agronomic crop with over 112,912 acres in production in 2009. Imperial Valley is the largest alfalfa growing region in the world with the majority of alfalfa baled for shipment to California dairies or compressed to be shipped overseas.

Bermuda grass seed is a five to seven year crop planted in August through the first week of November, and again in May through July, and then harvested in July and August as well as limited winter grass harvesting in December.

Bermuda grass hay has a harvesting period of August through November and then again in April through July.

Kleingrass is planted from August through October and in the last weeks of May to July and it is harvested from August through November and mid-April through July.

Sudan grass hay has a planting period of March through the first half of June and a harvesting window of August through October and April through July. Sudan grass for hay is the third leading field crop with 34,404 acres in production in 2009. Most of the Sudan grass is used for export to the Pacific Rim countries.

Sugar beets are planted in September and October and then harvested in August and again from April through July. In 2009, sugar beet production yielded 45 tons on 18,022 acres.

Wheat is planted in the second week of November through the end of March and harvested in May through July.  As per the U.S. Census, wheat is the fourth largest agronomic crop with 111,638 acres produced.

Imperial County is also widely recognized for its mid-winter salad vegetable production.  Harvests of crisp head lettuce, leaf lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage start in December and continue until March.

Asparagus is in season January, February, and March.

Carrots are harvested January through June in the “Carrot Capitol” of the world.

Field crops in the Imperial Valley in 2009 totaled 353,128 acres with a value of $312,554,000.

Numbers provided by El Toro Export’s Imperial Valley Planting and Harvesting Calendar and the 2010 U.S. Census records.