Farmworkers, stock staying safe as sun sizzles in Modesto

jholland@modbee.comJuly 1, 2013 

DN drink water

Debbie Noda/ With warmer weather here it is important to keep hydrated. Cows drink water from a trough, June 4, 2013 at the Hoekstra Dairy.

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

— The big heat so far has not done much harm to the people who work Modesto-area farms, nor to the crops and livestock.

Agriculture leaders said Monday that they are carrying out measures aimed at keeping people safe and fields productive through the hot spell.

No heat-related deaths of farmworkers have been reported by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. It requires farmers to provide water, shaded rest areas and emergency response plans.

The rules start to kick in at 85 degrees, but they are especially vital when it's approaching 110.

"You don't want some guy working out in the heat and not having access to water and shade," said Michael Marsh, chief executive officer at Western United Dairymen.

The Modesto-based group urges members to protect their cows from severe heat with shade, fans, misters and drinking water.

Marsh said he has not heard of problems this week that are anywhere near the disaster of 2006, when several thousand cows died. A big difference is that the nights have been somewhat cooler this time around, helping livestock recover from the hot days.

Most chickens are kept in air-conditioned barns where the temperatures range from 76 to 79 degrees, said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, also based in Modesto. He said Kings County has had turkey losses of an unknown magnitude, but the Modesto area has had no reports.

The area's canning peach crop is not yet at a stage where hot weather can do major damage, said Roger Duncan, a farm adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension.

The damage can occur when the fruit is starting to ripen, but that is still about 10 days away for the earliest varieties, he said.

Almonds, by far the most widely planted tree crop in the area, are doing OK at this point, although they might need treatment against spider mites brought by the heat, Duncan said.

Trees generally protect themselves from extreme heat by shutting the tiny holes in their leaves so they will retain water, he said — "Leaves are like the radiator of the plant."

Farmers tend to ensure they are irrigating enough to get the crops through the hot spell.

Bill Cox, who grows tomatoes, lima beans and walnuts near Westley, said the heat still might cause small losses. "It tends to make the blooms abort in our beans and tomatoes if it gets too hot," he said.

He also cited the risk of sunburn damage to walnuts.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or (209) 578-2385.

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