By Adam Calder
The extensive wildfires burning across California are having an adverse effect on a variety of crops in the northwestern states, and this may cause some supply chain and quality issues as we move into autumn.
The fires are having an immediate impact on the fields and orchards of farmers who’s crops have burnt away. As you move farther away from the fires, the damage is different but nonetheless devastating. Ash and soot fall from smoke-darkened skies, coating everything within a hundred miles of the fires with a fine layer of grime. These particulates in the air have been causing higher than normal rates of plant diseases and viruses, especially in crops like iceberg and romaine lettuce. Some fields had a cull rate as high as 50% when harvest crews went to pick the lettuce, and the lettuce they did manage to pack had flakes of ash on it.
The thick, dark clouds are limiting the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground, which is causing plants to grow more slowly and fruit is taking longer to ripen. Crops that need the sun’s energy to properly dry and cure before shipping, such as onions, are taking longer to dry in the field. The lower amounts of sunlight are also causing below-average temperatures for this time of year, further slowing down the pace of progress on farms.
Around mid-October, much of the nation’s vegetable production switches from California to desert growing regions in Arizona. This switch should ensure a consistent supply of good quality lettuces and onions, assuming the fires in California do not get worse and spread smoke over an even larger portion of the country.
Washington and Oregon state apples appear to be as of yet unaffected by the smoky skies. The main problem with the apple crops is the high winds fueling the wildfires that are causing apples and pears to prematurely fall from trees. The Washington Apple Commission estimates a reduced harvest by 5% to 10% because of these high winds.