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Strawberry industry holding steady despite statewide damage to farm fields

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 17, 2023

This week's storms have left many farmers up and down the state dealing with flood damage to their berry fields.

However, officials with the California Strawberry Commission say the consumer will likely not feel its impacts.

"Strawberries are available, the industry is very much viable, and right now, consumers and retailers shouldn’t see any impact because of the storm," said Jeff Cardinale, a spokesperson for the commission.

Still, he says a storm-induced levee break on the Pajaro River near Watsonville flooded roughly one-fifth of the strawberry fields in the area.

"Twenty-percent of farms in the Pajaro and Salinas River areas were affected by the flooding and rain event but that means about 80% were not," he added.

This week's rainfall also came down hard on farm fields across the Central Coast, but Cardinale says storm-damage prevention measures helped limit its impacts.

"In this last rain event in Santa Maria, that was the case with a lot of the growers, is that having drainage systems in place that naturally removed any of the water that was there out of the rows and out of harm’s way of the strawberry plants," Cardinale told KSBY.

But not all local growers were immune.

"Our planting schedules are way out of whack because of all the cold weather and the rain. The plants that are in the ground aren’t growing as fast as we would like, so we are way late on our harvest, but that is farming," said Bob Campbell of the Campbell Ranch in Lompoc.

Campbell says despite the setbacks, he still expects to have a healthy harvest this picking season.

Meanwhile, with the Strawberry Festival in Santa Maria a few weeks away, Cardinale says he anticipates the same.

"We expect there to be plenty of strawberries available, for it to be a good event," he said. "The Commission is a sponsor of the event, and we expect the industry to really shine."

Cardinale says many statewide growers impacted by flooding are still assessing the extent of their damage and will be able to get a better idea of the necessary repairs once the floodwaters have receded. He says the submersion of plants in rainwater can also yield beneficial impacts to crops, as the water will release salt from the soil and create more fertile ground.