Heat waves cause problems for farmers' crops and bottom lines

High temps lead to high water costs, lost fruit
Posted at 8:01 AM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-24 11:01:21-04

ESCONDIDO (KGTV): Wave after wave of excessive heat is taking a toll on San Diego County farmers this summer. Not only are they losing crops, but they're spending thousands of dollars more on water use.

"I was talking to a farmer earlier this morning, who wondered, 'Is this the new normal?'" says San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson.

"This is their livelihood," he adds. "Farmers will do whatever it takes to protect their crop."

In many cases, that means more irrigation to keep trees and plants alive. Escondido Farmer Mike Hillebrecht says he usually waters once a week. But when the temperature gets above 95 degrees, he switches his schedule to water every 4-5 days.

"That's all you can do, try to stay ahead with the irrigation," he says.

Hillebrecht's family farm has 16 acres of avocado and orange trees. He says it's been particularly costly this summer after a very dry winter.

"We didn't have any rain to speak of in the beginning of the year. And it's been hot. So you have to irrigate more," says Hillebrecht.

Meanwhile, many of his trees have dropped fruit to the ground, putting a dent in the crop he'll bring to market next season.

"That's money you'll never harvest," he says.

All of it will come out of his pocket, as well. The market sets the price for produce. Hillebrecht and other farmers like him won't be able to adjust their rates to make up for what they're spending on water.

"There's not a lot you can do about it," says Hillebrecht. "You can't talk to the trees and make them hang on to the fruit."

Larson says the best thing the Farm Bureau can do is continue their advocacy work to make sure there's enough water for farmers when they need it.

"If it is the new normal, folks are just going to have to adjust," he says.