Climate change means more extremes for Washington hops farmer
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“[What] we’re seeing all over the globe is a little bit less predictability and a little bit more extremes,” said Patrick Smith, a hops and apple farmer in Yakima, Washington, who’s in the middle of his harvest. “I think that really influenced some of the things that we saw in the crop this year.”
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal checked in with Smith about how climate change is impacting his farm and what future of his family’s farm. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: First of all, and as always, how are things in Yakima? How’s business?
Patrick Smith: Things are busy this time of year. We’re kind of right in the middle of our harvest season overall, wrapping up hop harvest here in about a week with apple harvest continuing for about the next four to six weeks. So it’s a busy time of year, but but going well.
Ryssdal: I bet, and I’m grateful for you for taking the time. Crops are looking what, good-ish?
Smith: Yeah, overall I’d say that the apple crop statewide is looking quite good. The hops crop here is mixed, probably with some of the earlier varieties coming in a little below average and the kind of middle and later-maturing varieties are looking to average to maybe like slightly above average. But quality on all fronts has been really good.
Ryssdal: And then the last thing that was on my list, and then, you know, we’ll see what’s on your mind. But I saw a piece in The New York Times the other day — and this is the reason we got you on the phone — about hop growers, hops, I guess, plural, hops growers in Europe dealing with climate change, and I figure climate is a global thing, and I wonder how that’s affecting you.
Smith: Yeah, it certainly is affecting us. You know, like we’re seeing all over the globe is a little bit less predictability and a little bit more extremes. And, you know, I think that really influenced some of the things that we saw on the crop this year with some of the maturity being, you know, a bit abnormal and, but it’s one of those things that we have very limited ability to do much about as a single person or a single company, right?
Ryssdal: The thing that gets me though Patrick is, you are what now, the fourth generation of your family to work this land?
Smith: That’s correct. Yep, yep. Fourth generation.
Ryssdal: OK, and you’ve got kids, and they’re going to have kids, and if you’re going to be able to keep on doing this through the family, climate change is like an existential threat.
Smith: Yeah, yeah, it really is. We’ve invested quite heavily in drip irrigation, for example, as a way to improve our water use efficiency, using more and more kind of remote sensing technology. You know, I think technology is a possible way that we can mitigate some of the issues, but it’s certainly not a silver bullet that’s going to fix everything. And so we’re doing what we can and trying to be more efficient and address what we can address and keep our fingers crossed, I guess, to some degree.
Ryssdal: Yeah, I guess. Right. I guess that’s kind of what we all have to do as we work to mitigate this. Do you or your siblings have any takers in the fifth generation of the Smith family to work the land as it were?
Smith: Oh, yeah, absolutely. My son is 7, and he has spent the last couple of weekends during harvest actually staying the night with my parents and getting up at 5:30 in the morning to come over and see the night shift switch to the day shift with my dad, his grandfather, because he loves being on the farm and wants to be around. And so if he doesn’t have to go to school on Saturday morning, he wants to be in the mix at harvest with the rest of us. So it’s pretty fun.
Ryssdal: That’s cool. That’s cool. Hey, how’s the brewery, by the way? Bale Breaker Brewing Co., let’s get the plug in there, right? How’s the brewery doing?
Smith: Yeah, things are great. This is a really exciting time of year for us at the brewery. Here in Yakima, we get visitors from literally all over the world during harvest. It’s also the time of year when we make fresh hop beers. And so it’s a really special time of year for us around here and pretty exciting.
Ryssdal: Are they buyers of your hops? Or are they just coming to see what’s going on?
Smith: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yak Valley is the world’s largest hop-growing region. And so we’ve got customers come in from all over the world, looking at harvest, evaluating the harvest and in selecting the hops that they will use in their beers for the coming year.
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