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California wildfires put agriculture at risk

Vineyards and grazing pastures most at risk, but power outages challenging strawberry and citrus growers

By Michael Hirtzer and Millie Munshi

The power outages prompted by wildfires in California are impeding crop harvesting and watering, while also forcing cattle ranchers to evacuate animals.

Blazes that worsened air quality and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes also threatened parts of the agriculture industry in the major wine, tree nut and fruit producing state. But seasoned farmers were relying on generators to help them get through blackouts as utilities cut electricity to as many as 2.5 million people to help stem fire threats.

“We’ve been speaking with growers and everyone feels pretty confident they’ll be able to manage through this,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission.

Farmers were harvesting strawberries in the southern part of the state and getting ready to seed next year’s crop in northern California. Workers in some cases were using backup generators to power irrigation equipment, O’Donnell said.

Some citrus growers in the southern part of the state have experienced difficulties from outages when trying to irrigate, Alexis Silveira, spokeswoman for California Citrus Mutual, said by telephone.

Ranchers evacuated animals away from areas threatened by fire and smoke, and many producers were still moving cattle as of mid-day Tuesday, Shannon Douglass, vice president at the California Farm Bureau Federation, said in a message.

The California agriculture industries most at risk, so far, are vineyards and grazing pastures, according to David Magana, a senior analyst at Rabobank. Major wineries in the state including one owned by Francis Ford Coppola were forced to close.

--With assistance from Lydia Mulvany and Marvin G. Perez.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Millie Munshi in Denver at;
Michael Hirtzer in Chicago at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
James Attwood at
Millie Munshi, Pratish Narayanan
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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