For many of us, the post-COVID-19 return to normal is still largely an aspiration. While most Colorado residents appreciate not having to wear masks in public places and finding socialization readily available, parts of society are grappling with changes in the workforce, chains supply and the certainty of “normal” plans when considering the future.
In May, I explained how a larger than average snowpack (163% of 30-year snowwater equivalent) was a welcome departure from normal for farmers in the South Platte Basin in 2021. , but how a rainy spring delayed planting plans and thus a timely supply of local produce.
This supply of local produce in northern Colorado is now being impacted by planting delays with shortages in the supply of cool-season crops and slower-than-average crop progress in warm-season crops.
With record heat from recent “thermal domes” in the western states, crop production in key areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California is also off its regular harvest schedule. and its total output, not to mention the agony and sometimes the danger to farm workers. in fields when daily temperatures are well above body temperature. Worker safety adaptations to avoid heat stress, imposed by farm managers, can result in reduced working hours, avoid hot periods of the day and restrict the ability to harvest agricultural products.
For crops, part of the long-term resilience response is improved genetics for heat tolerance. Fruit crops are the most sensitive, as high temperatures during pollination can affect pollen viability. No pollen, no fruit.
With the health of farm workers paramount, farmers have tools, such as the OSHA Heat Index Tool app, to monitor heat index stress and make management decisions – when to work, when to take breaks , shade, water, etc. – and ensuring the work in the field, while hot, is feasible and safe day to day.
While it appears that our country’s food supply is something we can take for granted, stable and secure, it is in fact fragile, given that it is mostly outside and at the mercy of the people. severe weather. And this time continues to show more extreme models. In addition to the heat, the fruit tree growers of the western slope note the death of trees due to the extreme cold of February. The July 6 Drought Monitor shows that most areas west of the Continental Divide are experiencing some degree of drought, with the Colorado fruit region experiencing exceptionally drought.
Crop growers in the Colorado River and South Platte River basins are concerned with Lake Mead’s current water level 160 feet below peak and triggering the Drought Contingency Plan with others Western states. When the plan goes into effect for the Colorado River, it may reduce irrigation to farmers in that basin and the transmontane diversion of water to northern Colorado, which will impact the water available to farms in the Colorado River. South Platte Basin. All things are connected.
The policy also contributes to the fragility of agriculture. Farmers are also now concerned about the results of Colorado Senate Bill 087, the Farm Workers’ Rights Act. The law directs the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to enact rules to set the hourly threshold for overtime pay for farm workers no later than January 31, 2022. Colorado agriculture and other employers are exempt from paying overtime ( see Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards No. 37 of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment). While there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, farmers are concerned about the economic and business impacts added to the production and marketing adjustments they have made due to COVID in 2020, in addition to the stresses associated with it. to the weather problems mentioned above.
If you love local produce, despite all the stresses and threats to farmers, it is important to vote with your money to keep it viable and to think about how we can help build resilience in a profession / way of life. life that must manage constant challenges to nourish us.
Adrian Card is the Colorado State University Extension Agricultural Extension Officer for Boulder County in Longmont.