NAMPA, Idaho — Farmers in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon are struggling to keep their plants watered and wet during a lengthy heat wave that could threaten a 142-year-old record.
“Trying to keep enough water on everything is definitely a battle,” said Meridian farmer Richard Durrant. This July was the second hottest on record in Boise in southwestern Idaho and across the border in Ontario, Ore., it was even hotter and the average high temperature for the month was 99 degrees.
For this region, “That is just scorching hot,” said Jay Breidenbach, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The high temperature exceeded 100 degrees in Ontario 11 times in July and 10 times in Boise and August hasn’t brought any relief so far. The high temperature for the fist five days of August is expected to exceed 100 degrees in Ontario.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of water for irrigators in the region this year but the unrelenting heat is making it a struggle for farmers to keep their crops wet, said Meridian farmer Drew Eggers.
“It’s not like we don’t have enough water but you wish you could go faster across the field,” he said. “We’re trying to keep water on them the best we can but when you have this kind of heat for this period of time, it stresses the plants and hurts yields.”
Breidenbach said the high temperature in Boise had reached at least 90 degrees for 35 straight days as of Aug. 3, the fourth-longest stretch in recorded history.
The longest such streak is 50 days, recorded in 1875, and there is a chance that record could fall this year, Breidenbach said. The modern day record of 44 straight days above 90, set in 1994, is certainly within reach, he said.
The heat has affected size and yields for some crops in the region such as onions, said Stuart Reitz, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Ontario.
“When it stays this hot for so long, plants like onions shut down,” he said. “It’s not doing a lot of the crops any good.”
Nyssa, Ore., onion farmer Paul Skeen some onion tops in the region are starting to lay down. “That means they are starting their final process and they aren’t very big,” he said.
The biggest bulb onions grown in this region, colossals and super colossals, fetch a premium price but the heat wave could result in a shortage of those sizes this year, Skeen said.
“As of right now, it appears that we could be down a little in our biggest sizes because of this heat,” he said.
Durrant, who purchases wheat from other growers, said the heat is affecting wheat yields but so far, test weights haven’t been down as much as he had feared.
The heat has been hard on fruit crops in the area such as apples and peaches, said Williamson Orchards Manager Michael Williamson.
“The heat really slows fruit growth down,” he said. “It almost puts fruit maturity on pause.”