Local farmers fear warmer temperatures will hurt crops

BY ANNA EGELAND | JUNE 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Some local farmers are breaking into cold sweats over unusually warm weather.

The record-breaking heat seen in recent summers is expected to continue this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several local farmers have noticed the impact.

Emma Johnson, who can be found selling produce and seedlings from Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Central City, Iowa, at the Iowa City Farmers' Market, said the orchard is bracing itself for a smaller yield this season because of the heat.

"Everything's progressing a little quicker than normal … we'll probably only have lettuce for another two weeks," she said.

Johnson said the unusually warm temperatures in March made the orchard's fruit trees bloom early, and after an April frost, the orchard is only expecting 10 to 20 percent of its apple crop to survive.

KCRG meteorologist Kaj O'Mara said this summer is expected to be warmer and drier than average.

"What is normally a pretty wet part of the season is [expected to be] abnormally dry," O'Mara said, noting that the jet stream is blocking rain in the Midwest.

This has been the United Sates' hottest year on record through April, with a national average temperature of 45 degress, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ravi Bhatia of Friendly Farms, a 20-acre organic farm near Iowa City, said the warm weather allowed the farmers to plant outside earlier.

"It let us start earlier … that can be good but also indicates a dry season," he said.

Bhatia said the heat can hurt cool-weather crops such as lettuce, but the farm provided enough water and shade to help the lettuce crop survive. Gardeners are often tempted to over-water when it is really hot, but this could end up flooding the plant, he said.

Shelley Squier of Squier Squash and Donnelly Farms near North English, Iowa, said she is also expecting lower fruit yields because of warm weather and early blossoming.

Squier said she has also noticed an increase in the number of insects because of last year's mild winter, but despite these setbacks, she remains hopeful about this year's yields.

"We're hoping, yes, [the warm weather] will extend the season and increase yields," she said.

The warm weather not only poses a risk to crops but also to humans.

Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Public Health Department, said the immediate health risks of hot weather include heat stroke and added stress for people with weak hearts and breathing problems.

"People need to stay in the shade, stay hydrated, seek air conditioning," he said.

In the long-term, Beardsley said, the hotter weather could cause an increase in mosquitoes, communicable diseases, and skin cancer.

He also stressed the importance of walking or biking instead of driving regardless of beliefs about the causes of climate change, because this can help fight obesity and conserve resources.

"It's always a good policy to manage our resources effectively," he said.

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