Farm Bureau: Small farmers need help after storms
By Caleb Hampton
The California Farm Bureau is calling on the state to improve mechanisms for disbursing disaster relief payments for damages suffered in devastating 2023 storms.
Testifying before a joint informational hearing of the California Assembly Agriculture Committee and the Assembly Emergency Management Committee, Farm Bureau Administrator Jim Houston said the storm impacts have been especially hard on small farmers, including many that may lack insurance.
“There is no good mechanism for people to recover their losses. It's bits and pieces,” Houston said at the Tuesday afternoon hearing. “We need to be willing to give farmers direct relief.”
California agricultural regions have suffered losses from at least a dozen atmospheric storms that dumped heavy rainfall across the state from December through March, according to a state report prepared for the hearing. Flooding, landslides, downed trees and other damage caused widespread crop losses for farmers, who continue to clean up debris, replant fields and tally their losses.
In Monterey County alone, the January and March storms caused more than $600 million in agricultural losses, according to a report by the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. The flood damage included $160 million in losses to strawberry growers and $54 million in losses to lettuce growers.
Estimated Agricultural losses in neighboring Kings and Tulare counties, which have been affected by flooding, levee breaks and the refilling of the dormant Tulare Lake, have topped $460 million, according to local officials.
Houston began his testimony by asking lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of farmers as levees broke and waters rose. “You’re going to hear lots of figures,” he said, referring to the economic toll of the storms. “But what’s it like for a person on the ground when this happens?”
He shared the story of María Inés Catalán, a small farmer in San Benito County who lost everything in the storms. “When this happens, it’s devastating. It’s life-crushing,” said Houston, who also cited the trials of dairy farmers who scrambled to evacuate cattle to higher ground.
“I wish they wouldn’t have to go through it, but if they are going to go through it, you find ways to help them and make them whole,” he said.
Assembly Member Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, who chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee and represents Monterey County farmers impacted by the storms, emphasized the importance of protecting California farms. “The economic losses are staggering, but also the community impacts,” Rivas said. “Certainly, we have work to do.”
(Caleb Hampton is an assistant editor for Ag Alert. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)