Actions

Record-breaking summer heatwaves hurting small farmers

frame_0 (1).jpg
Posted at 1:04 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 13:04:04-04

PORTLAND, Ore. — This summer has been one of the hottest on record for states across the U.S. For farmers, high temperatures mean much smaller harvests and smaller profits. Now, it’s not just farmers feeling the burn. Shoppers may feel the pinch as food prices rise with a smaller supply of produce available.

For family farmers, that struggle holds even more weight. It’s about keeping their family legacy alive.

Jacque Duyck Jones has been farming her entire life.

“Duyck Family Farm was established in 1907. I am fourth generation on this farm.”

Every day growing up, this was her playground.

“Whether it was just riding along in a truck or riding along in a harvester in a buggy seat, it's kind of how it all began. I love farming. I love watching things grow,” she said.

But with her love for berries, seeds, and other crops comes the struggle of helping them survive.

This year, that job on her farm outside Portland, Oregon became the toughest yet.

“We had the COVID-19 struggles and concerns with safety and processing. Coming into this year, though, everything was looking normal,” said Duyck Jones.

The growing season was normal until a heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures soared above 115 for days on end.

“The heat and UV rays during those three extreme days," Duyck Jones described. "It pretty much just singed the fruit that was ripening."

Duyck Jones watched as her livelihood shriveled and died before her eyes.

“Every time we went to look, it was like more fruit was gone. Everything was out of our control,” she said.

At least half of their crop for the year was destroyed in a matter of hours.

“It was really devastating. It didn't really hit me until my dad said we worked all year, you know, on this, that it just felt so heavy."

The berries they could harvest weren’t the same. The berries were smaller than usual. For a producer who gets paid in volume, that was very hard for the family to hear.

Oregon produces 90% of the blackberries for the entire United States and in just 3 days, 77% of those crops in the Willamette Valley were destroyed by the heat, but it wasn’t just the berries that were damaged. The heatwave hit almost all other crops and Christmas trees, especially.

Oregon is also the top producer of Christmas trees in the country, and Jacob Hemphill’s family farm saw at least $100,000 in losses.

“It's a big number for a guy, you know, a small guy like me,” said Hemphill. “It's been pretty stressful wondering what trees are going to make it, what trees aren't going to make it.”

His seedlings, the trees people would buy years from now, were destroyed. He said the farm can hopefully make up for the loss by replanting next season, but it is always a gamble.

Many of his older trees were damaged too. Hemphill called the damage a “sunburn,” some of which can be shaved off, so the tree can still be used this year. But, he said this heatwave will interrupt the supply chain in some way.

“It's going to make a shortage. You know, we were just kind of coming out of an issue where there was a shortage of trees, and now, it was looking better. Long term, yeah, they'll probably be a little hiccup in the road, but we're going to make it through for sure,” Hemphill said.

All of these losses mean higher prices for the consumer. It is a tough reality these farmers face to make a living.

“It's tougher this year, but we have toughness,” said Hemphill. “We've made it through it, you know, that's what we do.”

Farmers like Hemphill and Duyck Jones are working with groups like the Oregon Farm Bureau to help them survive. Anne Marie Moss of the Oregon Farm Bureau said weather events like this heatwave this summer need to be covered in more state and federal aid programs.

“The light and heat loss isn't necessarily covered because the entire the entire vine or the entire plant wasn't destroyed,” said Moss. “So, that might be an example of a gap that where it's not covered, so these people really need help.”

Moss has dedicated much of her time to contacting legislative leaders, sharing farmers’ stories and helping the community understand the incredible importance of preserving the specialty crops grown in Oregon.

Duyck Jones hopes people will see her passion for farming and support her family’s work in any way they can.

“We're not just saying we need money. We're saying we need agriculture to be valued, supported, and I hope that when people are shopping and they see blackberries, that they buy USA,” she said.

With more state and federal help and support from shoppers across the country, these producers hope their family legacies can outlast the extreme weather.