By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
While the blazing Central Valley temps drove many indoors this week, farmers throughout the region have been adjusting to keep operations cool.
Though most crops are safe from the oppressive heat, there are some that can still be devastated with the temperatures creep upward.
“Our biggest concern is not the crops, but the poultry and dairy industries,” said Kamal Bagri, Assistant Commissioner with San Joaquin County Agricultural Commission. “Some of the small producers might not be equipped with cooling systems. If they don’t have proper equipment, that would be a big concern.”
In 2006, a heatwave struck the area, causing the fatalities of many dairy cows throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
“The dairies have gotten prepared for the heat with misters and shade,” said Milton O’Haire, Agricultural Commissioner with Stanislaus County.
Most crops, according to O’Haire, will be fine in the heat, which is expected to reach 110 degrees in some areas during the week. “Cantaloupes are doing fine in the heat. The grapes are doing really good – they just got so much water this year,” he said.
Some crops, such as stone fruits and walnuts, might be exposed to too much heat because of being above ground and not having the cooling effects of the soil.
“The sun hits it so hard that the walnuts can just pancake,” said Chris Locke, a walnut grower in Lockeford. “I have seen some damage already. There are little indications. They’re supposed to be green this young, but they start to yellow.”
Walnut harvests don’t happen until September, and July and August tend to be the hottest months in the Central Valley, causing further concern for growers like Locke.
According to Accuweather, a forecasting firm, July and August are looking to average in the mid- to high-90-degree range, with hardly any temperatures breaching the century mark.
Locke and his crew use a reflective kind of white wash to coat the tree trunks, and sprinklers are kept going all day to help reduce the potential damage.
The other concern are farm laborers.
“You don’t have time to acclimate over a two- or three-week period of time,” O’Haire said. “You go from 80 to 105, that can be tough on the body.”
Cal/OSHA requires a buddy system for outdoor workers, making sure that workers can keep an eye on one another, looking for signs of heat illness. The organization requires businesses educate employees on the symptoms.
“Ag workers start early in the morning and are done by noon,” Bagri said. “Our contractors are very aware. Our own employees start early.” Employees with the Agricultural Commission often do field checks. If the temperature gets above 95 degrees, they are brought back in, according to Bagri.
Growers like Locke start most of their crews at 5 or 6 a.m., finishing the workday about noon to defeat the heat.
“People don’t have an appreciation for what the growers go through,” O’Haire said. “They have to deal with the elements.”