Parched Earth: Siri Erickson-Brown, of Local Roots Farm in Duvall, says all the groundwater has already evaporated during the drought and heat wave of 2015. Photo: Angela Garbes / The Stranger

By Angela Garbes
8 July 2015

(The Stranger) – Everybody in Seattle knows that summer doesn't typically start until after the Fourth of July. It's when, after months of rain (the infamous "Juneuary"), the clouds finally part and the temperatures rise. But not this year.

Nobody knows this better than local farmers. While people have been jumping in lakes and exuberantly eating strawberries and cherries weeks earlier than usual, farmers—whether they're located in the Snoqualmie Valley, in Island County, or on the Olympic Peninsula—have been wrangling hundreds of thousands of feet of drip irrigation tape (thin, perforated hoses that run along the base of the crop rows) under relentlessly sunny skies.

"This is the hottest, driest spring ever—as in the least amount of rainfall and highest temperatures for May and June," says Jason Salvo, who, along with Siri Erickson-Brown, farms 16 acres of vegetables on their farm, Local Roots, in Duvall. The farm supplies Seattleites with produce through weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes, farmers markets, and restaurants such as Altura, Blind Pig Bistro, Spinasse, Marjorie, Westward, and the Whale Wins.

"Plants just don't perform as expected when they're stressed by both heat and lack of water," says Erickson-Brown. "When it gets really, really hot, tomato blossoms drop. So they won't set fruit because they're like, 'It's a stressful world, I can't make fruit!'"

Plants at Willowood Farm, a 15-acre vegetable farm on Whidbey Island, also can't take the heat. "Right now," says farmer and owner Georgie Smith, "we're picking shelling peas and fava beans. And we have 30 percent less yield than we should have gotten, because they both dropped flowers when it was hot."

"I also grow a ton of garlic, and my garlic has suffered," adds Smith. "Along with the dry weather, I got a rust infestation." Rust, a fungal infection that can be lethal to plants, flourishes during lengthy dry periods and significantly reduced Smith's garlic crop.

"Everyone is feeling the effects of the drought," says Kia Armstrong, sales and promotion manager at Nash's Organic Produce, a 75-acre farm that raises vegetables, grains, seeds, chickens, and pigs near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula. "This is uncharted territory and extremely severe. Many farms run on river systems, and the rivers are at August levels—or lower."

According to Armstrong, the Dungeness River that Nash's depends on is at a record low. "Usually the Dungeness flows at around 600 cubic feet per second this time of year, but now it's running at around 125 cubic feet per second. And there is literally no snowpack." [more]

How Is Washington's Drought Affecting Local Farms?

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