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Latest round of storms cause hundreds of millions of dollars' damage.

Farm Press Staff

March 16, 2023

3 Min Read
Flooded field
A strawberry field near Watsonville, Calif., is flooded. Flooding has caused several hundred millions of dollars in losses for the California strawberry industry.California Strawberry Commission

The winter of 2022-23 has been devastating for California's strawberry industry.

After storms in December and January caused over $200 million in crop damage from wind, rain and floods, damage from recent flooding from the Pajaro and Salinas rivers in Monterey County has caused hundreds of millions of dollars more in losses, the California Strawberry Commission reports.

The latest disaster comes as farmers had borrowed money to prepare the fields and were weeks away from beginning to harvest, said Rick Tomlinson, the commission's president. As soon as the cleanup is complete, farmers will begin the process of preparing the fields and starting over, he said.

Disaster relief and emergency financial assistance will be critical for both the residential community and the farming operations, he said.

“This week’s flooding events along the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers have been devastating for those communities," Tomlinson said in a statement emailed to media. "Preliminary assessments estimate hundreds of millions in losses and thousands of people displaced in the town of Pajaro. The entire California strawberry industry would like to thank the first responders, aid organizations and volunteers who have helped begin the long recovery process.

"We are thankful that the Pajaro River levee breach is being repaired," he said. "Stopping the river from flowing into the community is the first priority. This is a good start toward a safer place to live, raise a family, and work."

Newsom visits area

Tomlinson's comments came as Gov. Gavin Newsom was touring the area on Wednesday, March 15, promising to help the hundreds of displaced farmworkers there while crews work to prevent further failures to the aging riverbank system, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

As reports of flooding came in from throughout the state, Newsom on March 10 issued an executive order suspending regulations and restrictions on permitting and use to enable water agencies and water users to divert flood stage water for the purpose of boosting groundwater recharge, Western Growers explains.

Storms last weekend pushed the Pajaro River near Watsonville over its banks, causing the evacuation of about 1,700 mostly Latino farmworkers, according to The Associated Press. The extent of property damage in Monterey County isn't yet certain.

The storms dealt another body blow to the strawberry industry, which in January reported that the winter's rough start devastated 1,840 acres from Southern California to the Central Coast. Erosion has washed away an estimated 350 acres, and another 1,490 acres were flooded in the earlier storms.

"California strawberry operations, most of which are multi-generational and family-owned, will remain vital to the damaged areas during the recovery and well beyond," Tomlinson said March 15.

California’s 400 family strawberry operations create 70,000 jobs in the state and invest 97 cents of every dollar back into the community, he said.

Shipments continue

"That commitment will only grow as the damaged area recovers," Tomlinson said. "Despite the challenges, there will be increased shipments of California strawberries from Oxnard and Santa Maria to stores across the country to keep up with high demand.

Times are tough, but the town of Pajaro, the surrounding communities and the strawberry farming families are more resilient than ever, and we will work together to recover,” he said.

Relief opportunities and support are available on a state and federal level to help navigate difficulties related to flooding. For a complete rundown of available resources, click here.

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