Agricultural concerns float throughout the county

Tulare County encourages residents to report property damages, to ensure the county will receive much needed funding for clean up

TULARE COUNTY – As there is more rain in the forecast in the coming days, the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services encourages anyone who has experienced damages to report them, including damaged farmland.

Tulare County needs to collect as much information about the flood damage as possible, so they are asking residents to evaluate impacts to their property as soon as the damage is clearly evident. Having the full assessment will allow the county to receive the federal help they will need to help with clean up. According to Tulare County Farm Bureau executive director, Tricia Stever-Blattler, those involved in agriculture should be on the lookout for an additional survey.

“There will be both a county damages report that the county is asking people to fill out and then our Ag Commissioner will also have to set up a document to track particularly the crop loss and the animal loss or any other farm impact, because there are totally different pathways for flood relief,” Stever-Blattler said.

In the meantime, everyone whose household or property has experienced any scope of damage is encouraged to fill out the county’s damage assessment form. The Tulare County’s Property Damage Form can be found on the county’s website alongside any additional emergency or flood information.

The county and cities need an accurate reporting on damages to be able receive the proper amount of help according to the county’s office of emergency services manager Andrew Lockman. The county has the ability to receive financial help, but without the full scale knowledge, they could not meet certain thresholds necessary to get the help. While the county and cities will receive help  from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), those in the agricultural fields will also receive help from the United States Department of Agriculture according to Stever-Blattler.

The California Ag Commissioner’s Office also put out their damage assessment survey. That survey will also stay around for several months allowing farmers and property owners to fully assess the damages. Stever-Blattler said part of the reason for that is because from an agricultural standpoint, some damages will present themselves many months after the storms have subsided.

One reason for the additional help is because of issues surrounding agricultural production. For tree crops, such as tree nuts, stone fruit, vineyards and citrus, they could be affected as a result of standing water in these orchards.

“Probably the most important thing about [trees in standing water], is just like us, we can’t breathe underwater, so neither can the tree roots,” Stever-Blattler said. “So as long as the tree roots are totally submerged in standing water, you’ve got the risk that they’re being deprived of oxygen.”

In addition to the lack of oxygen the roots could loosen and therefore lose their footing and fall over. There is also the risk of trees developing a fungus or root rot which would show during harvest. For products like almonds and pistachios, that would not show until the fall. Others like citrus for example, are having issues surrounding the actual harvest of the fruit.

“I don’t think we’ll know how much damage there is to the crop until harvest of that next cycle,” Stever-Blattler said.

Oranges however are in harvest right now. There is no way to move heavy equipment or picking crews in and out of the orchards due to the standing water causing yet another issue. That results in the crop having to stay on the tree longer than normal and fruit production being at a different level than what it should be. For example, fruits that may have been perfect for export will have to sit on the tree longer causing them to have a different form and no longer suitable for export and may have to be moved to be juiced instead.

Dairy Farms

Crops are not the only agricultural area who have been affected by the flood waters. Several dairy farmers are having to evacuate their cattle or begin to find alternatives for their cattle. Stever-Blattler said she has heard mostly from dairymen on the easternmost part of the county. She knows of a calf ranch that has had to evacuate their property as well as a few others who have looked to make plans for an evacuation of their animals as well.

Stever-Blattler said the dairies who have had to evacuate have taken it upon themselves to call a neighbor and find a place to house their cows. It is not an easy endeavor to move thousands of cattle because it has to be done safely and in a manner that does not cause too much added stress to the animals. The calves are easier to move, because they are small and not milk producing yet.

“But if you’re talking about moving large animals, the adult cows, and that’s a big deal, and you have to be safe about it,” Stever-Blattler said. “Running cattle into the trailers must be done with safe handling, or it causes stress. You want to try to safely and calmly move them into the trailers and get them off to their new location and all that causes animal stress.”

Having the addition of floodwaters on dairy farmers only exacerbates the normal issues dairy farmers deal with throughout the winter. However, despite all the damage to agricultural property, there are many farmers working behind the scenes to keep the smaller streams open and flowing according to Stever-Blattler. She said there are many individuals who are using their own equipment to clear debris and fix levees to make sure water continues to flow.

“We do have a lot of farmers out doing management of those streams where they’re clearing debris themselves,” Stever-Blattler said. “They’re literally out there with their own dozers and backhoes and they’re still pulling logs out of the rivers and trying to pull debris out of the grates. And they’re doing that around the clock right now.”

Stever-Blattler said she extends her thanks to those farmers who are taking their time and using their own resources to make sure the community remains safe.

County wide damages to date

According to Tulare County public information officer Carrie Monteiro, damage assessments are ongoing, and the information they have could be affected by some of the incorporated cities. Currently there are six homes that have been destroyed. Forty-six homes are defined as having “major” damage, meaning there is structural damage or other significant damage requiring extensive repairs. There are 152 homes in the “minor” category, meaning there is repairable non-structural damage and 178 “affected” homes, or homes with damages considered to be mostly cosmetic.

There are three known damaged facilities from flooding including Bartlett Park, Springville Wastewater Treatment Plant and Tonyville Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“However, there are still areas that are inaccessible and unable to be assessed pending clearing and repair of roadways,” Monteiro said.

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