A common site for passersby near the intersection of Lower Sacramento Road and Vine Street is Lo Saetern's strawberry stand, but by Tuesday he was giving up on continuing to harvest this season.
"The season is basically over," he said. "I've only been selling a couple hours a day because this year has been really bad."
Saetern said late rains caused the fruit to ripen more slowly, which made the berries susceptible to the recent heat wave. Most strawberries in his field have either been burnt by the sun or are still not ripe enough to pick.
San Joaquin County strawberry and cherry farmers were devastated by a late wet season followed by recent high temperatures.
Now, farmers of other crops throughout the county are taking steps to avoid similar losses, including loss of labor, livestock and harvestable crops. Heat slows everything from dairy production to fruit ripening.
Poultry and dairy farmers lose production because livestock eat less and use more energy to keep cool than to produce milk or eggs, said Michael Marsh, chief executive officer for Western United Dairymen.
Worse still, some can lose livestock due to diseases made more severe from stress on the animals.
Hank Van Exel, who runs Van Exel Dairy on North Thornton Road, said he lost four cows last week to the heat because they had fevers that escalated when the heat rose above 100-degree temperatures.
To combat such extremes in temperature, farmers who raise livestock, whether for meat or for egg and milk production, add misting devices, fans and shade to the animals' living areas to reduce stress on their animals and increase production.
Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable farmers face other difficulties as the timelines for tomatoes, apricots and peaches are all behind schedule - costing growers, producers and distributors money.
Ross Siragusa, president of the California Tomato Growers Association, said growers are still reasonably optimistic about the fall harvest. But because most tomatoes in the area were planted up to three weeks late, farmers risk losing their crops if an early fall rain hits the area before all of the tomatoes have been harvested.
"We really need a warm, dry fall," Siragusa said.
He said if the rain comes early, the dampness in the air and fields can cause the fruits to mold. Meanwhile, because tomatoes were planted three weeks later than usual, farmers are worried about blossoms falling off before being germinated and the developing fruits getting sunburn - a condition caused by young tomatoes being exposed to high temperatures.
Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, said the problem is that this year the Central Valley just missed the entire spring season.
He said strawberries and cherries were two of the hardest hit crops because of their dependence on a cool spring between the summer and winter.
Tom Gotelli of OG Packing said cherry production was down 75 percent this year due to rain - in part because the rain continued throughout the bloom season and also because a late rain just before harvest caused the cherries to split.
Conversely, strawberry crops, which are still expected to do well in cooler parts of the state, just couldn't survive the heat in San Joaquin County this year, Blodgett said.
"This year has been a bad year, period," he said.
But he said he expects most farmers to recover because the most recent heat wave wasn't overly long and most growers and producers have prepared for problems with the weather and will adjust accordingly.
How weather affects crops• Cherries: Rain throughout the bloom left less pollinated blossoms. A late rain in May caused and additional 25 percent loss, splitting the cherries just before harvest.
• Apricots: Rain throughout the bloom left less pollinated blossoms. Young fruit is 10 days behind in ripening because the heat causes the trees to slow down.
• Strawberries: The combined lack of a "real" spring and the high temperatures of early June caused less berries to form and sunburn on those that fully developed.
• Alfalfa: An extended winter caused fields to flood, making the crop impossible to harvest and causing rot in some crops.
• Tomatoes: Late rains meant later planting for San Joaquin Farmers. This leaves young plants susceptible to high temperatures, which can cause blossoms to fall off plants before germination and sunburn on the fruit.
• Walnuts: There is no determination whether walnuts have yet been affected, but they are the nut most susceptible to sun because of the green hull, which absorbs heat. Results of prolonged heat waves include sunburn, dark kernels and shrivel.
• Grapes: This crop has also yet to be affected, but may have suffered from prolonged rain. In addition, if the vines are not kept hydrated the leaves can shrivel and expose the fruit to direct sunlight.
Sources: California Farm Bureau Federation, San Joaquin County Farm Bureau
Walnut farmers whitewash their trees to reflect sunlight and avoid sunburn, grape growers water their fields in advance of any major heat waves to keep the vines hydrated and dairy farmers provide more shade and water for their cattle, Blodgett added.
But he said more important than livestock or crops, are the people who work the farms.
A state requirement, enacted last year, requires for employers to provide easy access to water and shade during the work day, and to ensure workers know what to do in case of a medical emergency from heat exhaustion. This is the first summer the emergency regulation will be enforced with fines up to $25,000 for failure to comply.
But Blodgett said most farmers understand the need to keep their employees happy and even provide varied schedules for workers, allowing them to arrive earlier and leave before the hottest part of the day.
Another important factor, and cost, in summer is water.
Because workers, livestock and crops depend on it, water will be the biggest cost to farmers this season, Blodgett said.
For smaller farmers like Javier Toscano this could pose a financial problem.
Toscano farms 26 acres of diversified crops including onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.
He said the heat wave means he will have to run his water pump more often to avoid damage to his crops and to produce good-tasting vegetables.
"We planted late, we'll harvest late and we have to spend more on water," Toscano said. "It all takes away from the final profits for the year.
Contact reporter Rebecca Adler at email@example.com.
First published: Saturday, July 1, 2006