You-pick farms lose customers and crops through heat, drought and haze in Iowa

BRIGHTON, Iowa — You-pick farms are struggling through heat, drought and haze as customers cancel picking appointments and crops across Iowa refuse to grow.

These farms offer visitors the chance to harvest their own produce straight from the tree, bush or ground.

But this summer marks Iowa’s third year in a row of drought. And that is hurting farmers who grow water-intensive crops like blueberries and strawberries that are particularly sensitive to heat and drought, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

Kim Anderson told The Gazette that her well started faltering during last summer’s heat and drought at her 5-acre Blueberry Bottom Farm near Brighton in southeastern Iowa.

Many of her blueberry bushes became parched. And recently, for the first time in the farm’s five-season history, she had to cancel a day of picking appointments because there weren’t enough ripe berries.

“I just never anticipated something like this, that the well wouldn’t have enough water,” she said.

Similarly, Dean Henry told The Gazette that these are the worst conditions he has seen in his 56 years of operating the Berry Patch Farm in Nevada in central Iowa.

Henry said the Iowa Department of Natural Resources restricted his well water usage from 20 acres a day to 1 acre a day. But his strawberry plants need lots of water.

This year, his entire crop failed.

The heat has affected customers too. Some you-pick farms reported a decrease in customer visits, according to The Gazette. If people do come, they aren’t staying as long as normal to take in the entertainment at the farms, like picnic tables or games.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires also caused Iowa skies to grow hazy and air quality to be poor several times this summer. Customers canceled their appointments on especially hazy days, Anderson said.