Artichokes, flowers hit hard by cold weather 

Flower and artichoke growers in the county are scrambling to assess the damage after several days of freezing and near freezing temperatures.

Flower growers, in particular, expect losses in the tens of thousands of dollars. Artichokes, while faring somewhat better, lost many of the fruit that had already begun to grow, said Gail Raabe, county agricultural commissioner. The majority of artichoke plants themselves — mostly perennial — are expected to survive and continue to produce into the spring, Raabe said.

"I’d estimate our losses at between $15,000 to $20,000," said David Repetto, of Repetto’s Nursery and Florist in Half Moon Bay.

Some losses are expected to be severe, cutting into revenues of one of the county’s largest agricultural crops, according to officials. Outdoor-grown, or cut flowers, made up about $16.5 million, or 10 percent, of the $162 million in county agricultural sales in 2005, according to the latest figures available.

Comparatively, total artichoke sales in the county made up about $572,000 last year, according to the 2005 Agricultural Crop Report.

About four outside-grown acres of flowers were "burnt" on his family’s farm by the cold during the last several weeks, Repetto said. Six to seven acres of flowers grown in greenhouses survived without damage, he said.

"When you’re in our kind of business this is what happens; you can’t cry about it," Repetto said, recalling a similar freeze in 1998.

While it may mean cutbacks later on, the damage won’t threaten the family business, he said.

The hit comes at a particularly unfortunate time. With St. Valentine’s Day just around the corner and fewer local flowers available, more will likely have to imported from Latin America.

"It’s very bad timing," Raabe said.

Alstroemeria, Calla lilies, narcissus and daffodils were the hardest hit, according to Raabe and Repetto.

Local artichoke farmers weren’t as severely hit as flower growers, a benefit of the "globe" variety of artichokes grown in the county, which bear fruit continuously throughout the year, with peak production coming in April and October, county Farm Bureau Executive Director Jack Olsen said.

"The globes tend to be able to survive the cold weather a little bit better," Olsen said.

A more complete estimate of the damages to both industries is expected in the coming days, as farmers have time to take stock of their plants, Raabe said.

Citrus growers in California’s Central Valley have been hit hardest by recent overnight temperatures with fruit loses estimated at $500 million or more, according to farmers’ organization California Citrus Mutual.

E-mail Edward Carpenter at ecarpenter@examiner.com.

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