Mar 16, 2023
Atmospheric river brings more flooding woes, crop concerns to California

An atmospheric river is disrupting organic produce production from the northern fields of Monterey County, California, to southern areas near San Ardo.

The Salinas River in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties reached a peak level of 26.8 feet — 3.8 feet above flood stage — on Monday and was expected to rise again midweek as water from last week’s atmospheric event continues to inundate the watershed.

An atmospheric river, also called a tropical plume or water vapor surge, is a narrow corridor of concentrated moisture that helps carry saturated air from the tropics to higher latitudes. Usually 250 to 375 miles wide, atmospheric rivers can reach lengths of more than a thousand miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An atmospheric river is causing flooding and disrupting organic produce production in California. Photo: File

The excess water, coupled with an extended winter, is causing concern as organic produce production shifts from the desert areas of Mexico, California and Arizona to California’s Central Coast and the Salinas Valley.

“We are facing many unpredictable environmental factors that will likely cause supply disruptions across multiple commodities,” Casey Mills, director of sales for Braga Fresh Family Farms, which markets the well-known Josie’s Organics brand, told Organic Produce Network.

Cold weather this past winter had already delayed initial harvest forecasts by up to two weeks before the recent storms, Mills said. He said growers are unable to plant fields and are facing lost acreage in flood zones.

“We anticipate initial Salinas yields to be lighter than expected for the first several plantings,” Mills said. “The commodities affected most specifically are the broccoli and cauliflower planted in November through December, as these crops have experienced the longest period of exposure to the cold and wet conditions.”

Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, told OPN that protocols requiring any crop from a flooded field to be discarded will further tighten supply in coming months.


“When flooding occurred in January, we witnessed that it typically took 30 to 60 days to get through those protocols,” Groot said, adding that it took up to two weeks for the water to recede on some fields.

That means growers may need 75 days or more to replant a flooded field.

Groot said the number of flooded acres won’t be known for several weeks, but he said it will be “much more” than the 15,000 acres flooded in January.

In a bit of good news, Groot said organic fields that have been flooded will not automatically lose their organic certification, and growers will not have to restart the three-year transition process.

Growers are looking to other regions to supply product in what would typically be peak season for organic citrus. OPN’s Week 11 market report found organic navel and heirloom navel oranges already in the supply chain and plentiful in all sizes and bags, with organic Cara Cara oranges in peak quality, size and flavor.

Organic blood oranges are expected to finish the season before the end of March, while mandarins should be in strong supply all month.

Organic cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash from Mexico are in steady supply, with harvest of Florida zucchini expected to resume in mid- to late-March. Organic pineapple supplies from Costa Rica have been strong and quality excellent. Organic mango prices are high as the season begins in Mexico but expected to drop.

Organic Hass avocados have seen a decrease in volume and an increase in prices, though overall volume remains promotable and quality excellent.

Organic broccoli, chiefly supplied from California’s Imperial Valley, is in good supply, but rising demand is increasing costs. Organic cauliflower availability is steady, but prices are also rising as the season winds down, while organic sweet baby broccoli is experiencing light volume, supply gaps and higher costs. Organic broccoli rabe is seeing increased volume and lower prices.

Organic strawberries out of Florida and Baja, Mexico are promotable, though Florida production is slowing as the season winds down. Organic raspberry prices are dropping as supply improves out of Baja, while organic blackberry prices remain steady out of Mexico. Organic blueberry supply has been tight from Mexico and Peru, California, and higher prices are expected through March.

Organic asparagus and organic Brussels sprouts are widely available with good quality from Mexico.


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