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California Vineyards and Ranchers at Risk as Wildfires Rage

Michael Hirtzer and Marvin G. Perez
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California Vineyards and Ranchers at Risk as Wildfires Rage

(Bloomberg) -- The power outages prompted by wildfires in California are impeding crop harvesting and watering, while also forcing cattle ranchers to evacuate animals.

Blazes that worsened air quality and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes also threatened parts of the agriculture industry in the major wine, tree nut and fruit producing state. However, seasoned farmers were relying on generators to help them get through blackouts as utilities cut electricity to as many as 2.5 million people to help stem fire threats.

“We’ve been speaking with growers and everyone feels pretty confident they’ll be able to manage through this,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission.

Farmers were harvesting strawberries in the southern part of the state and getting ready to seed next year’s crop in northern California. Workers in some cases were using backup generators to power irrigation equipment, according to O’Donnell.

Some citrus growers in the southern part of the state have experienced difficulties from outages when trying to irrigate, Alexis Silveira, spokeswoman for California Citrus Mutual, said by phone.

Ranchers evacuated animals away from areas threatened by fire and smoke. One significant problem, though, is that many producers aren’t able to get into evacuation areas to access their livestock, Shannon Douglass, vice president at the California Farm Bureau Federation, said in a message.

The California agriculture industries most at risk, so far, are vineyards and grazing pastures, according to David Magana, a senior analyst at Rabobank. Major wineries in the state including one owned by Francis Ford Coppola were forced to close.

The state’s walnut growers, who had never experienced blackout, were caught off guard when the power went off, said Roger Isom, president of the Western Agricultural Processors Association. The blackouts came just as nuts were being processed after harvesting, which requires machinery to dry them out.

Some walnuts were left wet in facilities for about four days, and it’s now unclear if they have developed mold or mildew, he said.

“Everyone understands the sensitivity of shutting down to prevent fires,” Isom said. “But this has to be resolved.”

(Updates with comments on walnuts starting in eighth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Lydia Mulvany and Millie Munshi.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Hirtzer in Chicago at mhirtzer@bloomberg.net;Marvin G. Perez in New York at mperez71@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Attwood at jattwood3@bloomberg.net, Millie Munshi, Joe Richter

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