From Fresh Berries to Lettuce, What We Now Know About the Agricultural Losses Caused by Flooding in California
CA Crops Flooding 031723
California farmers are facing another round of flooding, with fields still bearing fresh scars from January’s flood event. An area known for the production of fresh berries, as well as leafy greens, is bracing for the worst, and officials expect the March flooding to spread over more acres than January.
The Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office conducted an assessment of the January floods, which projected the flood waters covered 20,000 acres in Monterey County, which is home to the Salinas Valley. The losses were pegged at $330 million , and that was at a time when the majority of the spring crops hadn’t been planted yet.
“Now we have March flooding, so those farms adjacent to the Salinas River, and in other low lying areas, which are at most risk for flooding again, I think the difference this time is kind of two-fold,” says Chris Valadez, the president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. “One, you had crops planted in the ground for the upcoming spring harvest. So, there is direct crop damage this time more so than there was and would have been in the January event, and two, not only did you know virtually all of the 20,000 or so acres, flood again, but this weather system and the resulting flood and volume of water that was coming down the Salinas River and spilled over laterally into farm fields was more aggressive."
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This week, the atmospheric rivers are having a larger cut due to a levee breach. The water is impacting fields planted in fresh berries, like strawberries and raspberries. Some of the low-lying area are also home to leafy green production like lettuce. While the damage will be severe for those in the flood water’s path, Valadez says the entire area includes close to 360,000 acres of productive farmland, most of which is expected to still be harvested this year.
“There are an array of different row crops, vegetables, and others that that are planted in that will be harvested and shipped come this spring. That is just kind of the good news, if there's any to share from this event,” he says. “The bad news is there's more acreage there's going to be more direct crop loss, there's going to be more negative impact onto the agricultural economy, families and farm workers that will continue kind of suffering through this region.”
Residents in the rural community of Porterville, California, say it took 15 minutes for floodwaters from a broken levee to devastate their homes. Some are now wading through the murky waters to feed their animals, as they say they had no warning that the flood was about to hit pic.twitter.com/UEjVyHUgTo — Reuters (@Reuters) March 17, 2023
Valadez says this March flood event will have a negative impact on the farming communities, as well as the farm families and employees who rely on the production each year. That’s a concern Supervisor Luis Alejo of the California State Association of Counties in District 1, also told CNN.
“The pain is going to be prolonged for many weeks and months. This should have been the beginning of the harvest season,” says Alejo.
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There are concerns about what any crop loss will do to overall supplies this year, and the damage is still unknown.
“There will be more crop losses as areas that have not experienced flooding now are now experiencing it for the first time,” says Norm Groot with Monterey County Farm Bureau.
Valadez says if previous flood and drought events have taught the area one thing, it’s farmers in that part of California are extremely resilient, but Valadez says the weeks and months ahead will be hard for those producers, and they’re going to need help.
“In some cases, they're going to need people to get out of the way, we're going to need to cut some red tape at the local level, perhaps at the state level as well, regulatory speaking, to get berms and levees back up so that the river can handle appropriate water levels getting from point A to B, so that they're not as at risk to flow laterally and on to ag fields,” he says. “And so reducing red tape, allowing farmers to kind of put the pieces back together and really allow them to rebound because they are naturally resilient and history has shown they'll come back stronger than ever.”
Valadez says the area is confident they will be able to work together and overcome the challenges Mother Nature is throwing their way, as the ultimate goal is to get farms back to a healthy state so those fields can start producing valuable crops again.