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
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.