Valley heat wave has some farmers concerned

FRESNO, Calif.

The blazing sun has speeded up the ripening process for many locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Gayle Willems is known as the "Berry Lady" in Kingsburg. She's not worried about the heat's effect on her blueberries however Willems explained, "Probably the boysenberries and the blackberries are the most susceptible to damage from the heat that we have now. That's why we have all our blackberries and boysenberries under shade protection."

Despite the shade cover, the rapid warm up was still felt by the berries. Paul Willems said, "I came out on Sunday and I walked through a big patch and kind of panicked so yesterday we picked blackberries because all of a sudden they were getting ripe."

Paul Willems said the berries can still sustain damage even with the shade protection.

It's hot now but the cool, wet spring delayed the harvest of many crops.

Gayle said, "Our blackberries and boysenberries are about two weeks late this year so we'll be going a little longer."

Paul added, "Some things are ripening a little later and so we'll see if they mature out and seem to be okay. Maybe it will get too hot and maybe they won't make it. I don't know."

The blueberry season is winding down. Not only do the Willems sell their berries and other products at their Kingsburg store, they also sort and pack the fruit here. It is then shipped to places like Costco and Trader Joe's, as well as to other countries. Fans help keep the employees cool inside. Harvest begins at sunrise to protect workers from the heat.

Paul Willems said, "We always start early and try to have everybody out of the fields by about 11 o'clock."

It is a practice many local farmers employ to keep workers from suffering heat illness.

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