Ag losses rise over $60 million following March storms

The total cost of economic loss for the Valley’s growers surpasses the original $60 million estimate, according to Assistant Agricultural Commissioner Christopher Greer

TULARE COUNTY – As flooding swept through the Valley, it took more than peoples’ homes. It also took millions of dollars from the agriculture economy, leaving mere remnants of orchards in its wake.

For a Valley ripe with agriculture, the most recent storms have nearly devastated the local economy. Originally, the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s office sent in their estimated damage reports to Cal OES at the wake of the flood, but assistant commissioner Christopher Greer said that number has changed significantly.

“Agriculture is resilient. However, we’re dealing with the severe weather that really does affect our local, state and national food supply,” Greer said. “Hopefully we as a community, Tulare County and as a state recover from this and go back to being the vibrant agricultural state that we are.”

Greer said that the agricultural commissioner’s office sends an “initial disaster declaration request” to Cal OES amid any natural disaster. When they did this, they took into account the current damage that constituents reported through their damage assessment survey. That survey will also stay around for several months, allowing farmers and property owners to fully assess their damages. The outcome was the projected $60 million. As storms continued to rage, however, Greer said that number “has significantly risen,” as damages in orchards, dairies and fields became more prevalent. Some damages in agriculture present themselves many months after storms have subsided, as well.

“It’s really difficult to get a full scope of how much financial impact everyone has faced due to the severe weather and floods,” Greer said. “We don’t have a sure number, but we’re looking at millions, hopefully not billions, in damages right now.”

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. 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.

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.

California Strawberry Commission President Rick Tomlinson said in a statement that in Monterey County, another area in the Valley devastated by flood and one of California’s greatest producers of strawberries, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars in loss.

“For the farms that were flooded, this catastrophe hit at the worst possible time. Farmers had borrowed money to prepare the fields and were weeks away from beginning to harvest,” Tomlinson said. “Disaster relief and emergency financial assistance will be critical for both the residential community and the farming operations.”

Greer said that crops are not the only form of agriculture affected. Several dairy farmers are having to evacuate their cattle or begin to find alternatives for their cattle. Not only that, but the stress of moving and the increased moisture may cause health complications for cattle, or even put production to a halt. Not to mention the toll that the floods have taken on cattle feed production.

Besides agriculture, the recent floods have been devastating other parts of the community as well. 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.

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.

There will be two flood relief workshops coming up for farmers and ranchers to attend, according to Greer. These workshops will involve county departments, where farmers can learn about flood recovery, and also hear about crop insurance relief programs. The first workshop will be held on April 19 in the Exeter Memorial Building from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. The second will be held on April 25 from 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. at Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s office in Tulare.

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