Historical perspectives on exotic pests and diseases in California
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, California agriculture underwent a fundamental transformation as the state's farmers shifted from the production of wheat to a rich variety of tree, vine, and row crops. This transformation required a wholesale shift in the production processes, with new farming practices, new labor systems, and new marketing structures. But success also required new legal, scientific, and institutional structures to overcome the serious threat that diseases and pests posed to the state's new intensive fruit and nut culture. This paper examines a number of case studies, showing how specific pests and diseases nearly destroyed commercial production of grapes, and several tree crops and how farmers responded to these threats. One response was to demand government help to overcome the free rider problem and other sources of market failure. The result was to strengthen the scientific infrastructure within the University of California and the USDA and to enact quarantine legislation to limit the free movement of plants and fruit. We argue that these instances the private and social returns to collective actions far exceeded the costs.
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