Washington fruit farmers bracing for millions of dollars in losses from heat wave

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Washington fruit farmers bracing for millions of dollars in losses from heat wave

Fruit farmers in the U.S. state of Washington are expecting losses in the millions of dollars after a brutal summer that saw a record-breaking heat wave followed by a statewide drought emergency.

Berry farmers were particularly impacted by the heat, but the tree fruit, wine grape and potato industries were also heavily affected, The Bellingham Herald reports.

The USDA already offers financial assistance to farmers in drought-designated counties, 14 of which were recently added in Washington state. Growers in drought-designated areas are generally eligible for USDA emergency loans if they have seen crop losses of at least 30% or other livestock or property damage.

But a letter signed July 26 by 44 bipartisan legislators Pacific Northwest and beyond argues that the agency should go one step further, also offering aid to farmers suffering from the heat wave’s impacts.

“Unfortunately, many of the producers who suffered the greatest heat-related losses were either located in counties not covered by the drought designations, experienced losses not covered by drought assistance programs, or both,” the letter reads, going on to request additional federal assistance beyond current USDA drought relief programs.

In Washington state, farmers expect millions of dollars in losses due to the heat wave. Raspberry, blueberry and blackberry farmers are reporting crop reductions of 20 to 80 percent, and cherry growers lost an estimated 20 percent.

The financial damage to the state’s raspberry farmers sits somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million, Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, said in an interview with The Herald.

But for many growers the complete financial toll from the heat wave is not yet clear. Farmers are scrambling to account for product losses, some crops have yet to be harvested and some growers anticipate the heat wave will impact next year’s harvest as well.

The heat’s impact on potatoes, for example, is unknown, since the crop grows underground and will be harvested beginning in September.

Photo credit: Alan Schreiber/Washington Blueberry Commission

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