From: Michelle Locke, Associated Press
Published January 5, 2006 12:00 AM

Grapes in California's Wine Country Expected To Survive Stormy Weather

NAPA, Calif. — Winter storms made a mess in California's wine country, but the rains were not expected to wash out the region's valuable grape crop, officials said.


Weekend storms washed debris over vine trellises, knocked down posts and sent soil downhill. But with the 2005 harvest safely in weeks ago and the vines dormant for the winter, vintners were not expecting serious problems.


"There's certainly been a lot of vines under water, but they've been under water before," said Nick Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, on Monday.


The big problem facing vintners was repairing damage to downed posts and flooded equipment, cleaning out the rubbish washed in by urban floodwaters and digging out from sediment.


Hillside growers face the opposite problem of building up soil eroded by the storms.


The storms hit hard over the weekend, swelling the Napa River to 5 feet above flood stage and swamping several downtown blocks. Napa officials said about 600 homes and 150 businesses were flooded, causing about $50 million in damage. Estimates for vineyard flooding were not immediately available.


"There'll be debris washed up and there probably was some debris taken off the property," said Chris Carpenter, winemaker at the Cardinale winery in Oakville. "The vines are pretty resilient and they're all shut down, so they can be completely submerged and they'll all come back."


People have planted crops in flood areas "for millennia," he said. "What's happened is they're also starting to plant houses in flood areas because they're beautiful places to be in."


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WEST SWANTON, Vt. (AP) _ Making a profit from running an organic dairy operation can be difficult, a new study by researchers at the universities of Vermont and Maine shows.


Of 30 organic dairy farms whose financial performances in 2004 were studied, two-thirds failed to make a profit, the study found.


"Overall, we find that the average organic dairy operation was not profitable ... . The average rate of return on farm assets was minus 2.9 percent," the researchers reported.


The findings were surprising to some because dozens of conventional dairy farms have switched to organic production, enticed by promises of higher and more stable prices.


West Swanton farmer Earl Fournier said he was not surprised by the study's findings, although his operation has been improving. The profit on his 75 milk cows tripled from $9,000 to about $30,000 in 2004-2005.


"The numbers don't make you jump out of your chair, but I can say for certain I'm no worse off and the potential to be really better off is there," he said.


Demand among consumers for organic milk has been increasing 20 percent or more per year, although supply has not kept up.


Organic milk, Fournier calculated, would pay him at least $1.85 a gallon. In 2006, he will be paid at least $2.24 a gallon.


But feed costs are higher on an organic operation and the production is lower, often wiping out the premium that farmers earn, the study found.


"You've got to know what you're doing," said Glenn Rogers, one of the researchers on the study. He stressed that the study was just a one-year snapshot of the industry.


Source: Associated Press


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