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Estimating the Monterey storm damage costs

Flooded strawberry fields in Salinas California.

As a stupendous rainy season moves toward its end for California, some have been attempting to measure the costs of the damages.

A long article in the Monterey Herald, published on March 25, attempts to put some figures on the losses in the Salinas and Watsonville regions.

One snapshot comes from the Monterey County agricultural commissioner’s office. Dated February 24, it gave figures of 15,705 acres damaged; projected value of crop losses, $324.1 million (the crops most heavily affected include romaine lettuce, strawberries, wine grapes, celery, carrots, broccoli, and garlic); and damage to farm infrastructure of $9.6 million.

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The greatest damage occurred in southern Monterey County.

More recent estimates indicate that 20,000 acres of Salinas Valley were flooded, out of a total of some 367,000 acres. Current estimated direct costs of crop damage range around $500 million.

Atmospheric rains in January did not affect planted acreage in most of the region. The March flooding is another story. One crucial detail: the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) BB #:210653, which manages an industry-sponsored series of safety measures designed to prevent bacterial contamination of leafy greens, dictates that flooded crops and cropland must wait for 60 days before replanting to make sure that they are not contaminated by animal feces.

Testing for fields flooded in January could thus have begun in mid-March, but that spate of floods set the clock back again. Moreover, unlike in January, some fields had been planted by March.

The situation is complicated by the fact that buyers down the line may not want to purchase crops from previously flooded lands, even if tests show they are safe.

Losses in strawberries and lettuce are further magnified by the fact that these crops are transplanted from nurseries.

The implications for strawberries are immense. Estimates say that about a fifth of strawberry acreage in the Watsonville and Salinas areas have flooded since a levee breach in the town of Pajaro on March 11. Floods fill some of California’s summer strawberry fields | AP News

Santa Cruz and Monterey counties provide about a third of the nation’s domestically grown strawberries. They were the county’s single biggest crop in terms of dollar volume, bringing in $986 million in 2021. 2021 Monterey County Crop and Livestock Report Next were leaf lettuce ($741.6 million), head lettuce ($451.6 million), and broccoli ($309.5 million).

Losses to the local economy are projected to be still higher. Chris Valdez, president of the Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association BB #:162651, suggested that crop losses amounting to $500 million could result in a loss of some $1.5 billion to economic output and employment, according to the Monterey Herald.

Possibly the hardest hit will be farmworkers who are not eligible for unemployment compensation.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.