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Idaho farmers try to stay safe during triple-digit temperatures

While the West is being hit with unusually high temperatures, agriculture workers still have a job to do outside.

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Triple-digit temperatures have been hitting the Northwest all week and are expected to stick around for several more days. The escape from the heat isn't always a luxury for people who work outdoors, especially in one of Idaho's largest industries - agriculture.

Big D Ranch is a family-owned farm that has been in the Treasure Valley since 1947. Neil Durrant has been helping take care of the farm for as long as he can remember, and he knows how working in the heat during summers is like.

"That's the thing with agriculture, we're outside all day," said Durrant, the manager for Big D Ranch. "The heat comes every year. We're always saying in the wintertime, 'We're ready for heat,' and when the summer comes, we're ready for the heat to go away."

While the western part of the country is being hit with unusually high temperatures, agriculture workers acknowledge they still have a job to do outside and believe they have a responsibility.

"We can't say that there's not going to be production because we have to change the water every day," Durrant explained. "If we're not using the water, then we're wasting the water and for years like this when we're in a drought, wasting water is not an option."

For success and safety, employees at the farm are shifting their work schedules to earlier in the day and dressing for the elements. When agriculture workers aren't in the field, Durrant said they're in warehouses where it's shadier and cooler.

"The health of farmworkers is extremely important to Farm Bureau and to all farmers and ranchers," Sean Ellis with the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement to KTVB. "Farmworkers are the backbone of agriculture and the state’s and nation’s agricultural industry cannot operate without them. Farmers will do everything they can to ensure farmworkers stay safe during this heatwave and that will be their top priority."

While there is no state heat prevention guidance regarding temperature increase and production, Big D Ranch said when it comes to their employee's safety it's about being aware, staying in contact with them and keeping them hydrated.

"If we see something we say something and if they're not feeling good they'll let us know," Durrant said.

Durrant and other farmers in the Treasure Valley said they provide lots of water, Gatorade and other forms of hydration to employees.

"Every farmer wants their employees to go home at night and be safe," said Galen Lee, the owner of Sunnyside Farms in New Plymouth. "They'll be ready to come back the next day and part of that is you can't be fatigued, you got to get some rest at home."

The heat also brought out challenges to their crops and how much they're able to produce. 

Lee said Sunnyside Farms is seeing a drop in milk production and Durrant said Big D Ranch sugar beats and corn crops are also being affected, both due to heat stress. 

"The only thing we can do is keep putting water on them," Durrant said.

Both farmers said they're used to triple-digit temperatures, although not this early and not for this long. However, they believe they will continue to adapt and get through it.

"We're going to make it work," Lee said. "We'll keep some water going and keep the crops hydrated as much as we can and keep that steady food supply coming."

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