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California Heat Wave Could Lead to Higher Prices for Agricultural Products


Eleven days of triple digit temperatures in California are taking a toll on the state's agricultural industry. Meteorologists expect the deadly heat wave that has killed at least 60 people could subside by this weekend. But the relief may be too late for many California farmers.

California dairy farmer Hank Van Exel is doing his best to keep his herds comfortable. But the effect of the heat on his dairy cows is evident. "She's already sore on her feet. Panting. If you see cows panting with a lot of saliva coming out of their mouth you know they're in tough shape."

Van Exel is a second generation dairy farmer. He has lost 14 cows and says milk production is down more than 20 percent.

Sacramento Information Officer David Jones says the heat has led to emergency declarations in several counties. "We can't find anything over the last 30 years that indicates that there's been anything like this. The heat has been unprecedented. It's been oppressively hot at night. All of these factors coming together have made it very challenging for the local community."

And California's $50-billion a year dairy industry is not the only victim. The California Association of Wine and Grape Growers say the heat is decimating its crops. Steve Heringer tends a vineyard of petite syrah grapes and says the sun is literally burning the fruit. "They're beyond raisin. There's nothing left there."

Heringer estimates he will lose more than five percent of his crop to the heat. But he's more concerned about how the scorching temperatures will affect the taste of his wines.

Over in the tomato fields, Craig Gnos estimates the heat has killed about 15 percent of the blossoms that typically yield 46,000 tons of tomatoes per season.

"Those are the aborted flowers right there that won't make it. We're obviously losing money as the days continue to be hot."

It's a story repeated in peach orchards and walnut groves and melon patches up and down the state. Especially in the Central Valley where more than half of California's $33 billion agricultural products are produced.

Paul Wenger at the California Farm Bureau says it's too early to asses total damages but he predicts consumers will feel the heat in their pocketbooks.

"The consumer deals with it in the prices they're going to pay when they go to the store or when they go to the restaurant."

Parts of Northern Europe also are suffering. Two weeks of nearly 100 degree temperatures in France, Germany, Spain and Northern Italy are blamed for dozens of deaths and power emergencies across the region.