Storm Damage to Crops Placed at $300 Million : Agriculture: Figure likely to rise, state says. Losses could lead to shortages across nation.


California's agriculture industry has sustained more than $300 million in damage--including $220 million in Monterey County alone--from the prolonged March storms, according to early figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

"This is a preliminary estimate . . . and it is likely that these disturbing numbers will increase as agricultural officials continue their survey," said state Food and Agriculture Secretary Henry J. Voss in a statement from China, where he is on a trade mission.

The worst losses include lettuce damage of $67 million; broccoli damage of more than $65 million; cauliflower, $65 million; almonds, $33 million; strawberries, $29 million, and wine grapes, $11 million.

The losses could lead to product shortages across the nation because California produces at least 80% of many of these fruits and vegetables, Voss said.

Damage has largely been concentrated in storm-battered Monterey County, whose fields around Salinas are considered the salad bowl of California. "The figures from Monterey County are very surprising and of great concern," added department spokeswoman Emma Suarez Pawlicki.

On the other hand, Pawlicki pointed out that earlier estimates of heavy damage to the state's artichoke crop appear to have been overstated. A preliminary survey of county agricultural commissioners showed that losses to the artichoke industry so far have totaled about $51,000.

Other industries Tuesday were also tallying the storm damage.

Southern Pacific Lines, California's biggest railroad with 3,000 miles of track in the state, reported major shipment delays of "intermodal" cargo, which are containers hauled by both train and truck that carry everything from televisions and other electronics to shoes and furniture. Another of SP's mainstay cargoes--truck trailers carried on flat-bed rail cars for long-haul trips--also were delayed.

One problem was damage to a bridge across Red Bank Creek, just south of Red Bluff on SP's mainline north-south route along Interstate 5, said SP spokesman Mike Furtney in San Francisco.

However, the Red Bank Creek bridge was repaired and reopened late Tuesday for the first time since Thursday, Furtney said, enabling SP to resume service on the line at slow speeds.

In the meantime, the railroad had been forced to reroute its trains on to other companies' lines. Those extra costs, together with repairs and the loss of revenues caused by the delays, will be "substantial," SP said, although it did not offer an immediate dollar estimate.

Overall, several economists Tuesday agreed with Lynn Reaser, chief economist at First Interstate Bank, who said damage to the state's recovering economy has so far been "relatively contained."

All this could change, however, if the rains continue. One of the companies carefully following the weather is Hunt-Wesson Inc., the food processor whose tomato cannery in Fullerton could feel a pinch in supplies.

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