Mudslides add to farm losses in south state

Issue Date: January 17, 2018
By Kevin Hecteman
A road near Alex Van Wingerden’s Carpinteria flower farm was inundated with mud and debris from recent rainstorms.
Photo/Alex Van Wingerden

The deadly mudslide that hit Santa Barbara County last week, which left part of Montecito in ruins, caused agricultural damage in the Carpinteria Valley.

The valley, described as the "flower basket of the world" by the California Cut Flower Commission, hosts about two dozen growers.

"They're all impacted," said Kasey Cronquist, CEO of the flower commission, "it's just to what degree."

He described one flower farm as having "about an acre of mud" come into its greenhouse operation.

Organizations representing avocado farmers and other growers said they were still trying to assess potential losses from the mudslides, which came as a consequence of the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in recorded state history. The flames destroyed vegetation and left the soil unable to absorb the rain that fell in the region last week.

"Our farmers are doing the best they can to get things cleared out, and assisting alongside first responders to open up roadways and using their heavy equipment to clear out the debris," Cronquist said.

The closure of U.S. Highway 101 due to the slides would also hamper farm operations until the road reopened, Cronquist said, adding that maintaining climate control in greenhouses was also a concern.

During the Thomas Fire, he said, ash covered greenhouses, limiting the plants' access to sunlight. With the slides, power outages have been a problem.

"Now you've got a situation where the ability to manage the climate controls that both heat and cool greenhouses for those same production practices are being inhibited," Cronquist said.

Although many growers have backup generators, "these greenhouses are very high-tech, and they're operating off of computer systems that know exactly what to regulate the atmosphere to be for the particular variety of flowers, the plants they're growing," Cronquist said.

Ken Melban, vice president of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission, said preliminary reports indicated avocado damage appeared to be small.

"There's a couple groves in that location, but across the board, there's not a lot of impact," Melban said. Though he had heard reports of property and equipment damage, a full picture of the effects had not yet developed "because of just the debris that remains, and the inaccessibility to areas there, understandably."

The Santa Barbara County agricultural commissioner's office reported that a damage estimate was not yet available, as many roads were still closed late last week.

The Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau likewise had not yet heard reports of agricultural damage, but the office is taking donations for a 4-H club, Playa del Sur 4-H in Carpinteria, that lost tack and other equipment for its animals. The Farm Bureau office can be reached at 805-688-7479 or

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.