Over 5 days, my wife and I visited 14 dairies throughout California's Central Valley as chaperone's of the University of Minnesota Gopher Dairy Club's senior trip.
The unique part of the experience, besides traveling with 28 21- and 22-year olds and parallel parking one of our three 15-passenger vans, was doing something I often don't get a chance to do; revisiting dairies I first saw 6 years prior.
In that short amount of time California has changed in big ways. Dairy remains #1 for agricultural value, but everywhere you turn there are trees towering over the fields. For 2012, the combined value of almond, walnut, and pistachio output would have about matched that value obtained through milking cows.
Whether or not California can hold on to the "state of dairy" title, being the nation's top milk producer with about 20% of the production, will be answered in coming years. No matter how much dairymen love their cows, it's difficult to let thousands of dollars of profit in tree crops slip away with the stress that comes with to growing crops for cows, getting the cows fed and milked, and find enough labor to do it.