Heat Wave's Impact on Idaho Ag

Published online: Jun 30, 2021 News Hannah Ashton
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Source: The Times-News

As the Magic Valley region in southern Idaho prepares for potentially record-setting heat this week, farmers, potato researchers and dairy scientists are all voicing concerns.

The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings locally from Monday through Thursday.

Heat Impact on Gardening

Kasi Kippes is worried about how the heatwave will impact her flower business. Kipes owns and operates Hen House Flower Farm in Buhl.

She has had a garden for a long time and started selling her flowers eight years ago. She said she has never seen this type of heat in June before.

“I knew it was going to be rough because we did not get the snow or rain, and it was super windy, but this is bad,” Kipes said.

For the first time, her dahlias bloomed before her zinnias and cosmos. Dahlias are native to Mexico and normally bloom later in the summer when temperatures increase.

Kippes wakes up at 6 a.m, grabs coffee, and heads directly outside to get any flower-related chores done before the heat of the day.

For anyone with a garden or outdoor plants, she recommends watering during the evening and moving plants into the shade if possible. Bringing outdoor plants into an air-conditioned home can cause the plant to go into shock and die. Watering a few days early can also help plants prepare for the heat, she said.

Kippes and her husband also farm corn, hay, wheat, barley, peas and beans. They are preparing for their water to be reduced as Twin Falls Canal Co. announced Thursday they are reducing water delivery from ¾ inch per share to ⅝ inch effective July 6.

She encourages people to be patient with farmers because they are going through a lot of stress.

“I hope this is not the new normal. That’s what scares me,” Kippes said.

Heat Impact on Potatoes

Potatoes are almost synonymous with Idaho and for good reason. Idaho produces nearly ⅓ of all U.S. potatoes.

In times of excess heat, this crop can suffer lower yields and quality.

Nora Olsen, University of Idaho professor and extension potato specialist, said heat on top of longer days can be a lot for any crop, including potatoes.

In high temperatures, potatoes will shut down and stop growing. This can cause situations of start and stop growth patterns that are not ideal for growing potatoes.

Another thing growers are worried about with the early heat is a lack of ground covering. Once potatoes grow they touch each other and this helps keep the soil cooler. This is called row closure.

Olsen said some areas have reached row closure and others have not.

Hot soil and hot temperatures can cause a disorder called “sugar ends.”

“This is not a disorder we will see until harvest and when we make french fries out of them,” Olsen said.

Affected potatoes will show higher sugar content and make darker-colored french fries. This leads to concerns over quality.

Compounding the issue of heat can be water availability. It can be difficult to make sure you have enough water on the crop, Olsen said.

“We are like pulling our hair out right now trying to figure out how to irrigate the crop and to do it in a manner that both supplies water and tries to cool the crop down,” Olsen said.

She said the conditions this year are not ideal but they have seen events like this before.

Heat Impact on Cows

Robert Collier, department head for the University of Idaho Veterinary and Food Sciences, said dairy cows are the most at risk for heat stress.

“Pray for the dairyman. They are going to have a tough week,” Collier said.

Because of dairy cows’ body size, food intake and production rate, they can overheat quickly. In temperatures between 103 and 106 degrees, without any cooling measures, it wouldn’t take more than a few hours for the animal to overheat, Collier said.

Once a cow overheats, her milk production drops.

Farmers can track respiration rate to see if their animal is overheating. Cows are panting animals like dogs. He said normal respiration should be below 60 breaths a minute. Anything above 60 means the animal is experiencing some level of heat stress.

Another way to track temperature is to use an infrared gun on the cow’s skin. Anything above 80 degrees is getting too warm for the animal, Collier said.

If a farmer believes their animal is experiencing heat stress in temperatures over 101.5 degrees, using just a fan won’t help the animal. Because cows’ internal body temperature is 101.5 degrees, blowing air that is hotter onto the animal will only drive more heat in their direction.

Collier recommends using a fan and mist combination to provide relief from the heat. As the water evaporates it cools the air. Another option is soaking the animal and standing them in front of a fan.