California farms grapple with flooded fields, ‘hundreds of millions' in damage

From dairy farms in Tulare to strawberry fields in Salinas, farmers in California have been dealing with the relentless back-to-back West Coast storms washing out their crops and fields, hitting them financially.

The damage caused by the storms has threatened the state's vast agricultural production, which produces more than one-third of the nation's vegetables and three-quarters of the country's fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

California's agriculture industry isn't just crucial for the country but also for the world's food supply. The state is the country's largest agricultural exporter and the nation's sole exporter of many commodities such as almonds, artichokes, dates, garlic and much more, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Review 2020-2021.

"Here in California, we feed the world, not just the country," dairy farmer Johnny Dykstra told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.

In an aerial view, a flooded farm is seen on March 10, 2023, near Strathmore, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The damage caused by the multiple rounds of storms could affect the availability of these exports. While grocery prices are holding steady for now, they could rise in the coming weeks if crop losses or equipment damage worsen.

"The earliest estimate is that it will be hundreds of millions of dollars in damage," Jeff Cardinale, spokesperson for the California Strawberry Commission, told Wadell.

AccuWeather preliminarily estimates the total damage and economic loss from the intense rounds of moisture in California to be an additional $6 billion to $8 billion on top of the $31 billion to $34 billion estimated from January's storm impacts.

Some crops were completely wiped out as a result of the excess rain and flooding, which was caused when some cities such as San Francisco received nearly twice their historical average rainfall.

During a break in the rain, farm workers drain lettuce fields of flood water as an atmospheric river storm slams California in Salinas, California, on Friday, March 10, 2023. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"If there was a planted crop of leafy greens, that unfortunately is a total loss and will have to be plowed under simply for food safety reasons," said Norm Groot, the executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau.

It's not just crop production that has been impacted by the storms, but also livestock and dairy farms, which accounted for over $42 billion in value in 2020.

"If the water gets in, there's not going to be any way to feed our cows or keep them safe and dry," Dykstra told Wadell.

While the abundance of rain and flooding have been detrimental to some crops, it has not been all bad news with some crops even benefitting from the extra moisture.

"The strawberry crop is actually looking really good this year for the 70 or 80% that did not have any flooding or any damage. They could actually overproduce because of the rain because of the mixture of soils," said Cardinale.

Crop fields in California. (California Strawberry Commission)

California accounted for nearly 90 percent of the United States' share of strawberries in 2020, which led the entire country. Monterey County produced about 34 percent of California's strawberries, leading the entire state.

"No one wants to feel too defeated yet because we're still in it. We're still fighting," said Dykstra.

Additional reporting by Bill Wadell.

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