Farms in and around Merced County keep it cool when mercury rises

jholland@modbee.comJuly 2, 2013 

BR Cow Cooling 05

(BRIAN RAMSAY/ TID is helping fund research on a new way of keeping dairy cows cool in hot weather. The current method to cool cows, electric fans and misters, are seen at Alamo Farms dairy in west Modesto. The fans run when temperatures reach 73 degrees and the misters go on at 90 degrees. TID is looking into a new technique that involves pumping water from wells and running it through a heat exchanger under the cow's bedding, cooling the cow and saving water and electricity. August 12, 2010.

BRIAN RAMSAY — Merced Sun-Star Buy Photo

— The big heat so far has not done much harm to the people who work valley 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 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 nighttimes are somewhat cooler this time around, helping livestock recover from the hot days.

Most chickens are kept in air-conditioned barns where temperatures range from 76 to 79 degrees, said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. 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, also are doing OK at this point, though 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 make sure that they are irrigating enough to ensure that the crops make it 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.

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

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