What does this onslaught of extreme weather mean for California growers kicking off their spring growing season?
“Farmers in the Salinas Valley were picking up the pieces from January’s flood event when it was hit by the March storm and subsequent flooding,” Chris Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, told The Packer. “We also know some areas didn’t suffer direct flooding in January that flooded this time around; thus, the number of acres flooded will be more significant.
“People are hurting,” Valadez continued. “An extraordinary effort has been and remains underway to pick up the pieces from not one but two successive devastating flood events that impacted farms, farmworkers and the services sector that depend upon a viable, operating agricultural economy.”
President Joe Biden, at the request of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, recently declared a state of emergency for 43 counties across the Golden State and is working to provide economic relief to the farm and food workers who need it, regardless of immigration status and storm damage.
“These farmers are highly resilient and will come back stronger,” Valadez said.
The tenacity and determination of growers notwithstanding, it’s inevitable that the back-to-back storms will affect what growers are able to harvest and ship in the weeks ahead.
“Weather has very much hurt our Salinas-area growers, with delays and disaster meaning lost fields due to flooding and other setbacks,” Andy Martin, president of A&A Organic Farms, told The Packer.
Not only is it challenging to farm under storm and flood conditions in much of California right now, once harvested, transporting perishable produce through the state could be hindered.
“Business is also off due to all the road closures from the excess water and flooding,” Martin said.
Flooding events have caused an issue not often seen in California in recent years: oversaturated soil. After so much precipitation, farmland across many parts of the state is like a sponge that has soaked up all the water it can possibly hold.
“Many Salinas-area spring and summer plantings were washed out or not planted because it was too wet. We could see some shortages of some products in a few weeks,” Martin said.
In the meantime, the Watsonville-based A&A Organic Farms is leaning on its strong supply of organic tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, oranges and garlic from Mexico while its California growers recover. Not all the organic grower’s California produce has a gap, however, as Martin said A&A Organic Farms has a supply of turmeric available from Santa Cruz County, Calif. along with its Fiji-sourced turmeric.
“Leafy greens harvest season generally starts in April and May in the Salinas Valley,” April Ward of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement told The Packer. “January and March rains and flooding will likely have an impact on supply in the spring and early summer.”
Valadez from the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California believes the majority of Salinas Valley lucked out this time. In early March 2023, the Salinas River that runs through the center of the valley carried more water than it could handle within its channel, forcing water to move laterally into adjacent agricultural areas, he said.
“More than three-quarters of all crop acres were not flooded,” he continued. “So, you will see crops harvested and shipped from the Salinas Valley for the spring harvest.”
However, it’s not all good news for Salinas Valley growers.
“Many farms have suffered damaging flooding and, unlike the January flood, had crops planted and suffered direct crop losses. Therefore, economic damages are likely to be more significant when compared to the impacts tallied from the January flood event,” Valadez said.