While January’s rains were a blessing for Ventura County’s citrus and avocado growers, they were a horticultural nightmare for many others tilling the soil for profit.
Flower farmers, who should be busy harvesting for the Valentine’s Day rush, are ankle-deep in soggy mud, clearing dead plants from their fields and worrying about the future.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said Kim Okamura, owner of K Okamura Flowers in Somis. “We lost probably 50% of our crop during the rain.”
Okamura primarily grows decorative baby’s breath, the small, white, crown-like flowers used in floral arrangements. They are in especially big demand this time of year.
Okamura is still calculating the losses because of the rain, but the amount could reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Although light, intermittent rains are ideal for flower cultivation, the storm that stuck to the Ventura County coast pounded flowers into the mud and ripped the budding petals off their stems.
Now instead of harvesting pastel-colored crops in anticipation of a big Valentine’s Day payoff, they are looking to the Easter holiday to make up for lost profits.
“My customers are mad,” said Sumi Akimura, owner of Camarillo Floral in Oxnard. “I’m scared that we’re going to lose some customers because of this.”
Akimura, who grows a variety of flowers for sale back East, said he has lost about 35% of his crop for a loss of more than $30,000.
Flower cultivation is a booming business in Ventura County with $32.9 million in sales in 1995, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Commission. That was up from about $28.7 million in 1994.
Rex Laird, chairman of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, estimated that the cut flower industry is one of the county’s 10 largest cash crops. But Valentine gift givers need not worry about an overall shortage of flowers for the holiday. Roses were unaffected by the rain because they are generally grown in hothouses.
That, however, won’t keep the price of roses down.
As the holiday approaches, florists expect to begin gradually raising prices, which will range from $30 to $120 for a dozen long-stem roses.
January’s deluge dumped more than twice the average annual rainfall for the county.
The excessive rain also had strawberry growers worried because the notoriously fickle fruit is easily damaged by rain.
“We were a little concerned,” said Michael Conroy, operator of Conroy Farms in Oxnard. “But it was a cool rain, and it’s still so early in the season that I don’t think it’ll have much of an effect at all.”
With the excess moisture, growers have had to use more fungicides to protect sweet red fruit from mold and fungus.
Avocado, lemon and other citrus growers, however, cheered as more rain fell on their crops.
“I can’t remember a year when the rains began so early,” said Link Leavens of the Leavens Fairview Ranch in Moorpark. “It’s been absolutely great because there’s been so much and it’s been so consistent. It’s definitely going to be good for us.”
National Weather Service meteorologists predict that farmers will have a chance to dry out in February. Ventura County can expect to receive normal amounts of rain, about 3 inches, and above normal temperatures, they said.