Tak­ing the heat

Lo­cal farms fare well in heat wave

Porterville Recorder - - FRONT PAGE - By MATT SARR msarr@porter­villere­corder.com

As sum­mer gives way to fall and tem­per­a­tures be­gin to de­cline, many are won­der­ing what im­pact this sum­mer’s heat has had on agri­cul­ture, es­pe­cially when con­trasted with the wet, drought-end­ing win­ter that pre­ceded it.

Ac­cord­ing to weatherag.com, Porter­ville has recorded 56 days with a high tem­per­a­ture of 100 de­grees or higher this sum­mer — 19 more than 2016 and 20 more than 2015. Sta­tis­ti­cally, 2017 has been the hottest sum­mer on record for Porter­ville since 2006.

While the high tem­per­a­tures have made this past sum­mer un­com­fort­able for Cen­tral Val­ley res­i­dents, the re­gion’s crops have en­dured the worst of the heat with rel­a­tively lit­tle dam­age. Other than some sun­burn dam­age around the edges of cit­rus groves, which hap­pens ev­ery sum­mer, crops around Porter­ville have not been ad­versely af­fected by this sum­mer’s heat wave.

“Ex­tended heat pe­ri­ods take a big­ger toll on em­ploy­ees than the trees,” said Gary Laux of Laux Man­age­ment in Porter­ville. He also noted that heat plays a large role in the sweet­en­ing of cit­rus fruit, part of what makes Cen­tral Val­ley’s navel or­anges so suc­cess­ful.

Scott Bor­gi­oli, chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist with weatherag.com, noted that while the Cen­tral Val­ley has had more 100-de­gree

days than av­er­age this sum­mer, there were few in­stances of con­sec­u­tive days with max­i­mum tem­per­a­tures of 105-110 or higher, which can pose con­sid­er­able risks to crops as trees be­gin drop­ping fruit to sur­vive.

Grow­ers have also ben­e­fit­ted from higher than av­er­age rain­fall and snow­pack in the Sierra Ne­vada, which has en­abled them to suf­fi­ciently ir­ri­gate crops to off­set evap­o­ra­tion and heat stress, un­like re­cent drought years.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to Tri­cia Stever-blat­tler of the Tu­lare County Farm Bureau, this sum­mer’s heat wave has been less

of an is­sue for grow­ers than the flood­ing ex­pe­ri­enced around the Val­ley this spring.

The dairy in­dus­try, how­ever, is far more sus­cep­ti­ble to losses from high tem­per­a­tures. While milk pro­duc­tion from dairy cat­tle nor­mally dips dur­ing sum­mer months, ex­treme tem­per­a­tures cause heat stress and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in live­stock, es­pe­cially among younger and older pop­u­la­tions.

In 2006, a two-week pe­riod of ex­treme high tem­per­a­ture cou­pled with high hu­mid­ity killed thou­sands of dairy cat­tle across the Cen­tral Val­ley.

Dairy farm­ers have learned from re­cent his­tory and have up­graded their fa­cil­i­ties with mist­ing

sys­tems and blow­ers to keep live­stock cool.

“[Dairy farm­ers] ex­pe­ri­enced a high mor­tal­ity rate among dairy cat­tle dur­ing the heat wave of 2006, which led to new safe­guards,” said Anja Raud­abaugh, CEO of Western United Dairy­men. “Over the last 10 years they have in­vested in cool­ing tech­nolo­gies that has bet­ter pro­tected an­i­mals, even in ex­treme heat waves.”

As a re­sult, lo­cal dairies have lost some cat­tle dur­ing this sum­mer’s heat wave, but the cool­ing im­prove­ments have min­i­mized those losses.

For those who are won­der­ing if last year’s rain­fall sig­nals a fa­vor­able change and an end to the drought, there are con­flict­ing the­o­ries re­gard­ing the up­com­ing year.

“I am con­cerned about the up­com­ing wa­ter year in terms of pre­cip­i­ta­tion based on long-range fore­cast mod­els,” said Bor­gi­oli.

He noted that some fore­cast mod­els call for av­er­age rain­fall in the Cen­tral Val­ley, while oth­ers pre­dict less rain­fall than av­er­age.

For­tu­nately, last year’s rain­fall not only equipped the lo­cal econ­omy to face the sum­mer heat, it has pro­vided some cush­ion in case rain­fall to­tals are lower than av­er­age this year and be­yond. Bor­gi­oli stated that it would take, “sev­eral bad years (low rain­fall) to get back to the ‘re­ally bad’ sta­tus” of the re­cent drought.

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