SAN DIEGO — Wildfires that blazed through Southern California left thousands of acres of farmland charred and burned; however, the damage, which is still being assessed, may not be as harsh as predicted in earlier reports.
The state's avocado crop — which generated more than $341 million in 2006, according to records maintained by the California Avocado Commission — was hit hardest, industry experts agreed, with approximately 5,000 acres of damage sustained by the 65,000-acre industry.
“There's a wide variety of crops that has been damaged, but if any sector really took a hard hit, it's going to be the avocado producers,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
California growers were expected to produce 365 million pounds of avocados during the 2007-2008 crop year, Guy Witney, director of industry affairs at the CAC, told SN.
“We have lost probably somewhere in the region between 5% and 10%,” Witney said how much of the crop was destroyed, but we still have a substantial crop out there. We'll still have over 300 million pounds, which is going in the right direction.”
Approximately 11,248 farm acres stand within the areas affected by the wildfires, but Larson noted that it is unlikely that all of that acreage was destroyed.
“Irrigated crop area sometimes will act like a fire break,” he explained.
The impact that the losses will have on wholesale prices is still unknown. However, with avocados being sourced globally, it is unlikely that avocados will be scarce.
Many farmers, ranchers and nursery operators were not able to access their land from the evacuation, and were therefore unable to irrigate crops for several days.
Some damage to egg ranches were reported as well. However, Larson told SN that the San Diego County Farm Bureau has heard only one report of 2,000 laying hens lost. “We've got about 4 million laying hens here in the county, so that's a pretty insignificant number.”
Dairy and beef cattle were also in the path of the fire, but damage mostly involved feeding pastures, possibly a few animals lost and trouble accessing dairy cattle. “What we've heard from dairy producers is they've lost pastureland and haystacks,” Larson said.
On top of damage to crops, equipment and irrigation systems, farmers using agricultural water in San Diego County will be under a federal mandate to reduce water usage by 30% come Jan. 1, 2008.
“In the wake of the firestorms, you get that black humor that comes at certain times where farmers are saying, ‘Now this makes my decision a little easier about which trees to stump [because of the 30% water reduction mandate]’,” said Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
“They've had a series of bad things happen to them down there this year. This fire is actually kind of a third strike, if you will, against farmers in some parts of Southern California. Back in January, we had the severe freeze that affected a lot of farmers, they have an ongoing drought, particularly in Southern California, and now the fires and winds on top of that.”