A Bitter Harvest
» January 19, 2007 «
Farm Bureau President Tours Freeze-Damaged State
It didn't take much for California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar to feel the pain of some of his members today.
California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar was part of a "freeze tour" which included Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria - right) and Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford - left).
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Mosebar, on a statewide tour of the crop damage from California's cold snap, viewed acres of ruined artichokes, browned and wilted from the cold and hundreds of citrus trees still filled with fruit that is too weather-damaged to make it to the marketplace. A hauntingly empty packinghouse also served as a reminder of last week's frigid temperatures--underlining that workers will face an uncertain winter with little or no crops for them to harvest or plant.
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"If these were my farms," he said, "I'd have heartache--not just for my family, but for those who were working for me."
Mosebar was part of a "freeze tour" which included Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) and Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) who visited Fresno, Salinas and Kern counties to see first-hand the impacts on both growers and those who work for them following the spate of frozen nights in the state.
"I have to give a great deal of praise to those agencies who are trying to give relief to our farmers and workers--and I have a great deal of respect for the efforts of Senator Maldanado and Assemblywoman Parra, who truly care and are trying to provide assistance just as quickly as they can," said Mosebar.
Senator Maldanado is working on Senate Bill 116, which would allow farm workers affected by the freeze to receive up to $200 per week without having their unemployment insurance benefits reduced.
"We need to do all that we can to ensure there is a steady, abundant workforce here for our farmers and ranchers who have suffered so much from this freeze," he said. "These fields and orchards are filled with people's livelihoods and we must do everything in our power to get government help and aid them in a quick and efficient manner."
"This freeze has caused more damage in more counties since 1998, when we had our last bout of very severe weather," said Parra. "But we are definitely more prepared in terms of having more assistance and aid--and we are going to continue to work hard to ensure the welfare of both our growers and those who work for them."
Here is a summary of the impact of the freeze to date:
Successive nights of temperatures in the mid-20s or colder took a severe toll on navel oranges, lemons and other citrus fruit. The farmers' organization California Citrus Mutual estimates fruit worth at least $500 million has been damaged and they expect that number to increase. Experts caution that freeze damage sometimes will not manifest itself for several days.
Though there are widespread losses, farmers also report that their frost-protection measures did succeed to some degree and California-grown citrus fruit will still be available in the market. Some farmers harvested fruit in advance of the freeze and that fruit will keep markets stocked for the next seven to 10 days. Fruit picked after the freeze will undergo additional inspections, to insure that only top-quality California fruit reaches market.
Avocados have begun to drop from the trees in Southern California as a result of freeze damage to the fruit stems. Freezing temperatures weaken the stems and cause fruit to drop from the trees prematurely. That process often takes a week to 10 days to show itself, so farmers have been cautious about estimating how much of the crop has been hurt. However, the California Avocado Commission is now estimating crop losses as high as 30 percent. The freeze could also harm buds for next season's avocado crop.
Severe cold in the coastal growing regions of Southern California ruined most of the strawberries being readied for harvest. The California Strawberry Commission says that will disrupt strawberry supplies for at least a couple of weeks. If the strawberry plants themselves escaped freeze damage, the plants will begin generating new strawberries after that.
Freezing weather has slowed the winter vegetable harvest in the Imperial and Coachella valleys and has caused crop damage. Farmers report damage to lettuce and other leafy greens and say artichokes have suffered extensive losses.
Young vegetable plants growing in desert harvest regions appear to have suffered extensive losses. That could affect the availability this spring of crops such as sweet corn, bell peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers are checking potential losses to lettuce also being planted for spring harvest.
Artichokes are finished until March in the Castroville area. There may be a few available from other regions, but they too are damaged. However, often when the perennial plants are chilled they produce more artichokes later. Expect artichokes to come back in March. (Source California Artichoke Commission)
The freezing temperatures may have frozen the new wood on olive trees. A similar freeze in 1990 caused a 50 percent crop reduction that year. Farmers aren't certain yet how much damage there may be, but it was cold in all growing areas, Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys as well as areas where boutique olive oil is grown.
Nursery plants and field-grown flowers--including flowers being readied for Valentine's Day also suffered losses. In Southern California the freeze destroyed flowers that would produce the next crop on each plant. Greenhouse-grown plants and flowers are not affected.
Other crops, dairy cows and bees
The freeze appears to have destroyed small blocks of tropical fruits such as guavas and cherimoyas, being grown in San Diego County.
The freeze damaged alfalfa growing in the Imperial Valley and hurt new plantings in the San Joaquin Valley.
Dairy farmers have worked to keep their cows comfortable through the cold weather. Farm advisors have encouraged farmers to feed their cows additional nutrients to maintain milk production.
Beekeepers have provided sugar water to their bees, to make sure they have enough nourishment to sustain them through the cold weather.
Wheat farmers are concerned about possible frost damage to their crop. Experts say the damage may not be determined until harvest time when the plants may not produce as much grain. As the plant grows it may look normal until it turns golden in color. Acreage planted in wheat is about 18 percent higher than last season.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization, works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 92,000 members
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top