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Farmers Worry That Their Crops Won't Survive This Summer's Heat Waves

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - California's Central Valley is home to some of the state's most fertile land, and now the heat wave has farmers worried about whether their crops there will survive. On Sunday, temperatures climbed to 114 degrees. Valley Public Radio's Alice Daniel reports.

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ALICE DANIEL, BYLINE: Pete Oliver says his small, green Army Jeep is older than he is...

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DANIEL: ...And he's 76. Oliver drives out to where his watermelons are fading in the heat.

PETE OLIVER: That little light area right there that's in the middle of the watermelons there.

DANIEL: There are white spots on the leaves that have been baked by the sun. Oliver picked cotton on his parents' farm starting at the age of 7, so he's used to the hot Central Valley summers. But this heat wave, he says, is close to unbearable.

OLIVER: The sun is just really, really beating down. It's hot, hot. You know, it's hot out here now, and it's not - it's probably 12 o'clock. And 2, 3 o'clock, it's really smoking out here.

DANIEL: Farmer Kong Siew pushes her wheelbarrow along rows of sin qua. She sells the green, ribbed vegetables to a company specializing in Southeast Asian produce. She stops to clip the vegetables off of the trellis that runs the length of her farm. She's got a ways to go, and it's early afternoon, but she won't finish today.

KONG SIEW: Yeah, 1 o'clock, I got to go home. Too hot.

DANIEL: Too hot for the bitter melons she grows. They're not looking good, she says, even when she gives them more water. She's at a loss.

SIEW: I don't know what to do. And I put the water - that's it.

DANIEL: At the National Weather Service's regional office, meteorologist Andy Bollenbacher says this weekend saw multiple records set in cities across the valley. He points to climate change, the drought and less water coming from the nearby Sierra Nevada snowmelt.

ANDY BOLLENBACHER: When that soil moisture content is depleted, like we're seeing right now, it's able to build on the heat dome we're already seeing because the soil's so dry.

DANIEL: And that can increase the number of wildfires in the foothills and mountains.

BOLLENBACHER: This allows the fuels to dry out for a longer period of time. They cure, and then you have a higher fire risk.

DANIEL: As for farmers, Bollenbacher says he's heard from a lot of them, including one who told him the other day...

BOLLENBACHER: If one of his wells fails, that he is going to go under because of how desperate the conditions have been for him.

DANIEL: Desperate for him and many other small farmers, including Pete Oliver.

OLIVER: It's just really tough to try to make it now. The small farmer is - it's fast fading.

DANIEL: Oliver says he will be the last of his family to make a living as a farmer. His kids don't want to farm - anything but, they tell him.

For NPR News, I'm Alice Daniel in Fresno.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONCAKE'S "MANDARIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.