San Diego County is categorized as urban, yet it was one of only three counties in the United States with over 5,000 farm operations in 2017. While continuing to expand its urban area, the county lost farmland at the rate of 3.8% every year between 2002 and 2017. By several measures, avocado production is the county’s most important crop, and avocado groves account for about 30% of all crops planted there. Avocado acreage is also declining rapidly in the county, at about 3% each year. To understand the dynamics influencing the decrease in avocado acreage, we explored the issue with avocado growers in San Diego County at the height of a drought in 2016. Water-resource related issues—especially the cost of water—were identified as the most important issues facing avocado growers, but other socioeconomic and environmental factors driving change were also identified. Drought conditions have continued in the years since, and this study highlights the ongoing challenges facing farmers in arid regions and potential broader cultural, economic, and aesthetic changes influenced by their decisions. It reflects upon the question of what happens if these factors continue to eat away at avocado farming in the county. After reading this case study, readers will gain insights into key drivers of land-use decisions among farmers on the urban fringe, including environmental and climactic factors, as well as implications for regional cultural values and larger economic and social trends.

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