Storms Cost County $27 Million in Crops

Ventura County's agricultural community took a $27-million hit in January's floods, with the strawberry, celery, lemon and lettuce crops suffering the worst damage, according to a state report released this week.

The rains also delayed the next round of crops, because the ground was too soggy for tractors to tackle. Some farmers are still unable to level their fields for the late-winter planting, Ventura County Farm Bureau Director Rex Laird said.

Meanwhile, growers elsewhere in the country are enjoying perfect weather, and turning out bountiful crops--which depresses the market prices for Ventura County produce.

"While we were getting flooded, Arizona was having beautiful weather, so it's kind of a double whammy," Laird said. "It's a real tough thing to sum up in a 20-second sound bite because there are so many variables, but I'd say (the damage) was pretty significant."

Overall, California growers reported nearly $97 million in crop losses due to the lashing wind and pummeling rains of last month's storms. More than one-quarter of the damage in California occurred in Ventura County, where 1,850 acres of farmland were battered, according to state Department of Food and Agriculture spokeswoman Emma Suarez.

"We needed the rain and we're certainly grateful for the rain, but we can't ignore the losses," Suarez said. The newly filled reservoirs may gladden farmers in less-soggy years, but "that doesn't do any good for people who lost their whole strawberry crop in January," she added.

Despite the heavy losses, Suarez said she does not believe prices for strawberries, lemons and other hard-hit crops will soar, because enough fruit and vegetables in Ventura County and elsewhere survived to buoy the market.

"This is a very competitive business, and if growers even consider passing some of their extra costs on to the buyers, they may find themselves with no buyers at all," Suarez said. "I would expect most of the costs to be absorbed by the growers."

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