California wildfires cost farmers dear

Farmers and ranchers in California are counting the cost of last week’s wildfires, which are believed to have wiped out millions of dollars of produce, animal feed and livestock.

It will still be a while before an accurate figure is available, but anecdotal evidence suggests the damage is considerable.

According to the California Avocado Commission, at least 10% of the state’s crop, or over 16,000t, has been lost, although this has been more due to the strong winds that blew fruit from the trees in Orange, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties. Officials estimate that as much as a third of the state’s avocado trees stood in the path of fires.

Lemon crops have also suffered scarring due to high winds, according to reports from the California Farm Bureau Federation, while large areas of pumpkins – a key crop at this time of year – have been “sandblasted”.

Many nursery crops also went without irrigation for a number of days, partly because employees were evacuated, but also because of restrictions on water use. “Some farmers in the fire area who grow berries, melons and broccoli returned to find their produce withered,” said a CFBF spokesman

It was better news for the state’s winemakers, however, as most of the grapes have already been harvested. Strawberries have also been little affected as they are grown in regions close to the coast.

But there is likely to be a high cost for ranchers in Southern California, with beef cattle and other livestock lost to the fire.

Rancher Glen Drown from San Diego county said 95% of his forage was gone and fences were either burned, or cut to make way for fire fighters. “We’ll be selling all our replacement heifers,” he said. “We will also pregnancy check our cows and get rid of any that are not pregnant.”

The CFBF is warning that hay prices will rise as the region was already suffering the effects of drought. “Storage in barns is down to about one third of typical levels.”

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