Monday, February 04, 2008

Storm costs swell

Friday, February 01, 2008

Storm costs swell
Crop damage estimates climb into hundreds of millions

Elizabeth Larson
Capital Press

Friday, February 01, 2008

Estimates of agricultural losses as a result of January storms continue to rise in Northern California counties known for their orchard production.

Storms in early January - specifically Jan. 4 - dealt serious damage to the Northern Sacramento Valley counties of Butte, Glenn, Tehama, Sutter, Yuba and Colusa.

Hardest hit was Butte County, with about $69 million in damages, a figure that includes not just the coming year's crops but the replacement costs for mature trees and lost income to growers, said Robert Maurer, county executive director of Butte County's Farm Service Agency.

"Almonds were the hardest hit," said Maurer, who said that they're estimating $65 million just for the county's damaged almond acreage, with $2.2 million in losses for plums and $1.9 million for walnuts.

Maurer said the process of seeking emergency funds has started, but he said funding is very tight right now.

To get emergency funding, he said, there usually has to be an emergency designation, which is triggered by a 30-percent crop loss. This is an unusual case, said Maurer, because the losses aren't restricted to crop damage.

Nick Oliver, supervising agriculture and standards biologist for Sutter County's Agriculture Department, put that county's initial losses at $13.6 million, with overall damages at $60.5 million.

Winds in some areas of Sutter county, especially around the Sutter Buttes, reached 70 miles per hour, Oliver said.

That played havoc with the area's almonds which, like those in Butte, were hit hardest. Sutter has only about 5,000 acres of almonds - far smaller than Butte's 39,000 acres - and so the county's overall losses were higher. Oliver said growers lost 50 percent of their crop.

Other commodity crop losses totaled 15 percent for prunes, 10 percent for English walnuts and 3 percent for cling peaches.

Glenn County Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Jean Miller estimated that the accumulated damage to Glenn's agriculture totaled $48 million, a figure which also accounts for long-term losses due to downed mature trees.

"When you lose a tree, you've lost 10 years of production and most of the trees were in their prime," she said.

The Jan. 4 storm brought fierce winds which was a major factor in destruction of orchard trees.

"I don't remember storm damage this bad over the last 10 years at least, maybe even longer," Miller said.

The wind also knocked down telephone poles which caused power outages, resulting in thousands of gallons of milk and cream being dumped by area dairies and cheese processors, Miller said.

Other losses included damaged bee hives and a 50-percent loss on the county's navel orange harvest, the latter totaling about $270,000.

In Colusa County, Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Jon Richter totaled this year's crop damage for orchards at $5 million, with replacement and production costs at $14 million for a $19 million total.

"We put in for a crop disaster designation with the Office of Emergency Services," Richter said.

The Padre variety of almond tree, in the 15- to 20-year-old range, seemed to be the biggest victim of the winter winds, Richter said. Many of the trees had not rooted deeply enough, they were planted on an east-to-west pattern and their larger canopies caught the winds.

Rick Gurrola, agriculture commissioner for Tehama County, said almonds, walnuts and prunes took the brunt of the damage from the storm in his county, with almonds projected at a nearly $4 million loss, with all crop damage and losses totaling $18.5 million.

Yuba County Agricultural Commissioner Louie B. Mendoza Jr. said their prunes were hit hardest, especially older orchards. Walnuts and peaches had minor losses.

The winter weather "has slowed down operations quite a bit," he said.

The county's overall agriculture losses are at $7.4 million, a figure which Mendoza said includes some infrastructure, such as damaged shops, buildings and packing houses.

Elizabeth Larson is a staff writer based in Lucerne. E-mail:

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