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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 3:02 pm | Fair 63º


Agencies Start Estimating Agricultural Losses Due to Thomas Fire

California Avocado Commission estimates 4,500 acres of avocado crops are located within Thomas Fire burn area, including 300 acres in Santa Barbara County

The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office hosts a workshop in Carpinteria Friday to connect with farmers impacted by the Thomas Fire. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office hosts a workshop in Carpinteria Friday to connect with farmers impacted by the Thomas Fire.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Ventura County farmer Emily Miles hoped for a good avocado harvest this year, but plans changed when the Thomas Fire burned through her ranch. 

“I had a beautiful crop on the trees for this year,” said Miles, who with her husband and part-time employee farms 6 acres near Highway 150 on Casitas Pass Road in Ventura. “We were going to have a good year.”

Rancho Aya was in the path of the Thomas Fire, which ignited Dec. 4 near Santa Paula and grew into California's largest wildfire, burning 281,893 acres as it marched across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was fueled by gusting Santa Ana winds.

Although no people, animals or homes were harmed by the flames, Miles said, structures, equipment, a mobile home, vehicles and ATVs, and a flatbed trailer were damaged on her property.

“We were lucky,” Miles said. “I’m a small grower, but it has burned a number of trees and took out one of our orchards. It took out our water tank and all the irrigation lines, and the lines in one orchard melted.”

Assistant Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner Rudy Martel said the full extent of the fire's devastation to the agricultural community is still unknown, and the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office will have a better idea in the upcoming months.

“It’s still early,” Martel said. 

The Agricultural Commissioner also held a grower assistance workshop in Carpinteria last week, to connect with growers, distribute recovery assistance information and start working on crop damage estimates. 

The California Avocado Commission, which represents growers in the state, has identified 4,500 acres of avocado crops within the Thomas Fire burn area, including about 300 acres in Santa Barbara County.

The hills above orchards in the Carpinteria Valley are scorched by the Thomas Fire. Click to view larger
The hills above orchards in the Carpinteria Valley are scorched by the Thomas Fire.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Not all of the acres within the fire perimeter have burned, and growers impacted sustained varying degrees of damage, said Ken Melban, vice president of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission.

Some trees are completely burned, while others could potentially be rehabilitated.

Melban said many growers also lost homes or structures.

“We are still trying to determine the extent,” Melban said. “Our hearts go out to the growers that were impacted.”

Melban said it would take approximately two years for a grower to receive a replacement avocado tree, and another five years for that tree to become fully productive.

The estimated cost, per acre, including replanting and lost revenue over that seven-year period, ranges from $44,470 to $112,260, according to the report. 

Melban said despite the fire’s impact, the avocado crop this year is predicted to be larger than 2017.

“We believe that we are going to have a strong year,” Melban said.

“In terms of the impact, those growers that did suffer — it’s devastating — but looking at statewide and our industry as a whole, that was a relatively small percentage of acreages that have been impacted between the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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