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September 24, 2020

Combatting the Effects of Wildfires on California Agriculture

More than four million acres have burned in 2020 so far from California wildfires.

2020 not only marks the year a global pandemic emerged, but also the largest wildfire season recorded in California history. The typical peak of fire season for California occurs between July and November when weather is hot and dry winds are frequent.

Each year, the California fire season seems to start earlier and end later. Whether it’s hurricanes hitting the East Coast or wildfires scorching through the West, the impacts of global warming are being felt now more than ever before. Nearly 8,000 wildfire incidents have been recorded as of mid-September. While 2019 had a similar number of incidents, total acreage burned in California has skyrocketed 92 percent in 2020 compared to last year with two more months left in peak wildfire season.

An influx in West Coast wildfires is among the catalyzing impacts of a changing climate and the effects last longer than flames. Not only is the potential destruction of crops, livestock, and property a sobering reality, but ash-ridden fields and a lingering smoke haze makes harvesting exceptionally difficult. Farmers and farmworkers are at a higher risk of exposure to wildfire ash and chemical residue.

As the largest agricultural-producing state in the U.S., California farmers are carrying an unimaginable burden right now to protect their land, animals, families, and workers while providing continued sustenance for the world. Because of this, new resources and programs are being developed each year to support their critical role in our ever-changing society.

Potential Farmstead Fire Hazards

An estimated 95 percent of California wildfires are caused by human activity. Understanding the potential fire hazards on a farm operation is the first step in mitigating the risk of sparking or fueling a wildfire.

Several common farmstead fire hazards that should be monitored include:

  • Wooden farm structures in close proximity to each other;
  • Flammable liquids, hay, and livestock bedding;
  • Fenced in areas where animals are contained; and
  • Open burning for crop management and trash removal.

Even with optimal fire prevention strategies in place, West Coast wildfires are as unpredictable as they are destructive. While some man-made risks can be minimized, natural-occurring weather such as lightning and droughts make many fires unpreventable.

Fire Management Strategies

Developing a fast-acting fire management plan for your farm can be the difference between a crisis and a tragedy. Fire management strategies to consider include:

  • Recognize “fire weather” (low humidity and rain, high temperatures and winds);
  • Monitor weather forecasts;
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system;
  • Pre-designate areas for livestock and human evacuation, fueling, and water supply;
  • Plan an evacuation route;
  • Create a fire-resistant zone;
  • Have enough N95 masks stocked for all employees;
  • Train farm employees on how to safely respond to fire; and
  • Use farm equipment (tractors, plows, sprayers, irrigation systems) to defend against fire.

Beyond the immediate destruction they cause, wildfires can also create lasting impacts on the ecosystem and soil health for future crops. Active efforts to assist recovery are often needed to recover from large, destructive fires. Such agricultural restoration activities include the use of silt fences, slash and mulches to prevent erosion and sedimentation, and re-seeding or replanting the area in order to help establish ground cover and vegetation.

Learn more about how to mitigate wildfire risk for your farm operation.

Emergency Resources and Response to California Wildfires

Agricultural land restoration efforts are essential after a wildfire but come with a cost at a time when those affected are recovering from substantial losses. Here are several resources and grants available to California farmers and ranchers who have been impacted by wildfires in 2020.

Monterey County Community Resilience Program: This website offers a platform for those interested in contributing volunteer effort or supplies to those affected by the recent fires in Monterey County. It also has an online form that can be filled out to request assistance, from toiletries to transportation for those displaced.

Napa Valley Community Foundation: As of the time of this writing, this organization has distributed over $4 million in emergency financial assistance to more than 1,500 families and farmworkers while assisting with essential recovery services such as groceries, housing, and more, to over 25,000 Napa County residents. If you would like to contribute to their efforts, donations can be made through the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund.

California Community Foundation (CCF): A donor-based organization, CCF makes it their mission to strengthen the Los Angeles county community through discretionary grant programs. They are currently accepting donations to the Wildfire Relief Fund to distribute to those affected by the 2020 wildfires.

California Farm Bureau Federation: The state farm bureau has a comprehensive guide of relief and assistance programs for homeowners, small business owners, and farm operators. It also has a directory of contact information for local farm bureau offices and USDA agencies.

Emergency Forest Reforestation Program (ERFP): This USDA program helps private forest landowners restore forest health damaged by natural disasters with authorized direct payments for forest restoration—an essential part of soil health, wildlife habitats, and water protection efforts.

National Interagency Fire Center

Supporting the Essential Role of American Farmers in a Changing World

American farmers and ranchers are on the frontlines of climate change, as one of the most severely impacted sectors and a fundamental part of the solution. At AgAmerica, we understand the volatility of farming and the unique challenges our nation’s farmers face on a day-to-day basis. When a natural disaster impacts your farm operation, the effects can be devastating and long-term. AgAmerica stands with these courageous farmers and goes beyond the limitations of traditional lenders as an advocate for U.S. agriculture to provide the flexible financing and resources needed to support their essential way of life.

If you would like to learn more about the options available to you when recovering your farm operation from natural disasters or how to increase its financial resilience against unpredictable circumstances, please contact our team.

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