Flooding fills some of California’s summer strawberry fields

When river water flowed through a broken dikeThousands of people in a California farm town had to be evacuated when their homes were flooded and businesses destroyed.

Yet another potential victim of the powerful rainstorms that have soaked the California coast: hundreds of acres of fresh strawberries slated for America’s supermarket shelves this summer.

Industry experts estimate that about a fifth of strawberry farms in the Watsonville and Salinas areas have been flooded since the dam broke about 70 miles south of San Francisco late Friday and another river burst its banks. It’s too early to know if the berry plants can be recovered, but the longer they remain underwater, the more difficult it may become, said Jeff Cardinale, a spokesman for the California Strawberry Commission.

“If the water recedes, what does the field look like – if it’s even a field?” Cardinale said. “It might just be a muddy mess where there’s nothing left.”

California’s farmers have been plagued by years of drought and struggles for water as key sources dry up. But this winter, the nation’s most populous state — and a vital source of food for the nation — has been hit so far 11 atmospheric fluxes as well as powerful storms fueled by arctic air blizzard conditions in the mountains.

Many communities are grappling with intense rainstorms and flooding, including the unincorporated community of Pajaro, known for its strawberry harvest. The nearby Pajaro River swelled with runoff rain last week and the levee — built in the 1940s to provide flood defenses and a known hazard for decades — broke, forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 people from the mostly Latino farmworker community.

Farm workers have seen their hours reduced or cut altogether due to the storms, said Antonio De Loera-Brust, a spokesman for United Farm Workers. The most critical issue, he said, is helping the people of the Pajaro community rebuild.

The overwhelming majority of strawberries grown in the US come from California, with farms in different regions of the state harvesting the berries at specific times of the year. According to the commission, about one-third of the state’s strawberry acreage is in the Watsonville and Salinas areas.

Peter Navarro grows strawberries, raspberries and blackberries on a farm on the Pajaro River. He said he was lucky his fields weren’t flooded by the levee breach, but still expects his harvest to be delayed by several weeks due to the rainy, cold weather.

After planting berries last year, Navarro said he and other farmers were concerned about water sources drying up due to the ongoing drought.

“When it started raining, we were elated, happy and saying, ‘This is what we need, a rainy season,'” Navarro said. “We certainly didn’t anticipate all these atmospheric fluxes. It just blew us away – and blew the flow.”

Other crops such as lettuce and other vegetables have also been affected by the flood in the Pajaro Valley. Some vegetables have already been planted, but many have not, and there may be delays in planting due to the storms, said Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau.

“Right now I think everyone is sort of trying to save the farm,” Groot said, adding that more rain was forecast for the weekend.

Home to Pajaro and the crop-rich Salinas Valley, Monterey County has more than 360,000 acres of arable land, said Juan Hidalgo, the county’s agriculture commissioner. The county estimates the agriculture sector was hit by $324 million in losses from January’s storms, and strawberries, raspberries and vegetables are likely to be affected, he said.

But, he added, many acres of farmland won’t be, and consumers may not feel the effects of the storms. “We’re still going to produce a lot,” he said.

A challenge for strawberry growers is that the plants are already in the ground. Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas, said the company works with a network of independent growers to pack, ship and sell strawberries. In the Pajaro Valley, farmers planted last fall so the berries will hit stores in the summer, when it’s too hot to grow the fruit farther south, he said.

At the moment the farmers cannot even go to the fields because the roads are covered with water. But with about 900 acres (364 hectares) submerged in the Pajaro Valley and another 600 acres (243 hectares) submerged in the nearby Salinas, Bjorn said the potential impact is significant, especially as farmers aren’t just faced with the challenge of sludge-soaked crops are, but also damaged devices.

In the height of summer, Bjorn said, most of the country’s strawberries come from this region.

“It’s too early to know the full impact of this,” he said. “There’s no way we’re going to get what we planned.”

Source : news.yahoo.com

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