What record-setting temperatures mean for Oregon's farmers

Blueberry Salsa Header

“Every commodity we raise has been impacted by the below average rainfall but the extreme heat and UV conditions ruined our Kotata blackberry crop instantly. The plants can handle heat but the timing of the heat dome resulted in us watching the fruit dry up on the fruit spurs.” - Jacque Duyck Jones, Duyck Family Farms | 1000 Friends Farmer Advisory Committee member

Oregon is known for its temperate weather, not the three-digit, record-setting temperatures we experienced at the end of June and into early July. Some parts of the state reached 117 degrees, not far from the average temperature of Death Valley, home of the world record for the highest temperature ever recorded.

The severity of this particular heat wave was caused by a weather phenomenon called a heat dome. ‘“The heat dome phenomena develops when there is a large poleward shift in the jet stream… The clockwise circulation of air associated with the area of high pressure can act "like a dome or cap, trapping heat at the surface and favoring the formation of a heat wave."’

In addition to the extreme heat, the already present drought conditions and smoke from wildfires added to the equation meant that many farmers were — and still are — facing devastating outcomes for their harvests.

“The extreme weather is another blow to farmers who have struggled with labor shortages and higher transportation costs during the pandemic and may further fuel global food inflation.”

Extreme heat affects each agricultural product differently, but it means a smaller yield or a lower quality product for many. For example, berries and Christmas trees have been affected particularly badly, with some farmers losing a significant amount of their crops.

“What’s concerning to me is the general withering of all the other plants. Grasses went crash dormant, and the firs are badly sunburned and are casting needles on the southern faces.  This increases the fire danger, which, after last year’s lost harvest, would be a debacle.” Jason Lett, The Eyrie Vineyards | 1000 Friends Farmer Advisory Committee member

Each week, the United States Department of Agriculture generates crop reports for Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. These reports offer insight into the challenges that this month’s unprecedented heatwave created for our agricultural economy — Oregon’s second-largest economic industry. 

Here are some stunning highlights from the July 19th report:

  • Berry crops suffered from hot and dry conditions, with some ending up damaged.
  • Pastures saw less production and irrigation was not able to keep up with the severe drought conditions.
  • Dry conditions continued and pasture ground nutrient value declined.
  • Irrigation under the Mason Dam was turned off due to lack of water.
  • In Malheur County, heat continued to stress crops and slow growth.

I am starting to notice that the grape clusters are not sizing up like they usually do, which could be due to extremely dry conditions that were brought on by the death valley event.” - John Paul, Cameron Winery | 1000 Friends Farmer Advisory Committee member & 1000 Friends Board member

Oregon’s farmers and ranchers already have a lot to worry about. On one hand, they have to account for natural obstacles brought on by climate change like worsening drought and wildfire seasons. They also have to contend with the continued proliferation of nonfarm uses on farmland and unnecessary attempts to expand urban growth boundaries, contributing to additional sprawl. 

The damage done by the most recent heatwave is more evidence of the need to protect farm, ranch, and forestland so farmers and ranchers will be able to feed Oregon and contribute to the economy for generations to come.

“​​It is such an overwhelming and heavy feeling to see hard work disappearing. There was nothing we could do besides going into harvest still doing the best we can to provide our high quality fruit to our processor and reaching out to elected officials pleading for help for the farmers, ranchers, agriculture industries and infrastructures in Oregon that have been impacted. I’m thankful for all of the Oregonians that continue to buy and support NW agriculture of all forms, shapes and sizes.” - Jacque Duyck Jones, Duyck Family Farms | 1000 Friends Farmer Advisory Committee member