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Treasure Coast ranchers, farmers struggle amid scorching heat

'Right now it's hard being a farmer. ... It's just hard,' Indiantown rancher Greg Fluwelling says
Posted at 6:20 PM, Jun 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-28 18:22:35-04

INDIANTOWN, Fla. — The sweltering heat is causing issues for ranchers and farmers across the Treasure Coast, who said it's impacting cattle production and crops.

At the Painted Quarter Ranch in Indiantown, rancher Greg Fluwelling walked WPTV through the grass that just months ago was brown due to an unprecedented drought.

"A little greener than the last time you were out here, huh?" Fluwelling said. "We're still down about 2 feet. If you look at the ditches, you can see."

Now that he's finally starting to recover from that, and supply chain issues from flooding in Fort Lauderdale, he's now walking into a new challenge.

"Really bad heat," Fluwelling said.

Greg Fluwelling explains how the sweltering temperatures impact his cattle.
Greg Fluwelling explains how the sweltering temperatures impact his cattle.

Fluwelling said the heat affects everything from the money he expends to his supply of cattle, pigs and eggs.

Fluwelling said in heat like this, each cow uses one gallon of water per every 100 pounds of animal. With each cow weighing at least 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, the water bills are through the roof from keeping up with the demand.

"Anywhere from 12 to 14 to 20 gallons of clean water they need each day," Fluwelling said.

On top of that, he's pouring money into trace minerals to help keep his cattle hydrated. In the heat, they eat a lot less.

"The minerals are very expensive," Fluwelling said. "I think they’ve doubled in the last five years."

The heat is dragging his swine through the mud, too.

"That's our biggest concern," Fluwelling said. "They do not do well past 80 degrees. They'll go into heat shock."

So much so, Fluwelling said they'll stop eating and reproducing altogether.

"[Their] birth rate goes down everything," Fluwelling said. "Everything's affected by the heat."

Fluwelling said even his chickens are sweating it out.

"When it gets hot like this they just stop laying," he said. "Right now, it's hard being a farmer, a rancher or a farmer. It's just hard."

Bradley Brown explains how the high temperatures affect the growing of produce this time of year.
Bradley Brown explains how the high temperatures affect the growing of produce this time of year.

At the Fort Pierce Green Market, Bradley Brown of Brown Family Farms struggles to keep much of his produce alive amid the scorching temperatures.

"Things affected by the heat right now are tomatoes, celery, any leafy greens," Brown said. "The broccoli that's flowering is being affected by the heat."

His broccoli should be vibrant green, but due to temperatures, he typically doesn't see this early on, the vegetables are slowly browning.

"It's a super hot season," Brown said. "I don't know what's going to change. What's going to make it better"

Yet both he and Fluwelling said they're keeping their cool — knowing they'll find a way to make it work. After all, it's a livelihood they can't afford to lose.

"We have great customers and we enjoy what we do, but you've got to love it," Fluwelling said. "It's hard."

Fluwelling said he does have ways to cope: for one, his pigs are able to cool off in mud pits they dig themselves.

As for his cattle, he's able to put them in the shade to help them stay cool, too.

Both Fluwelling and Brown also said loyal customers at farmer's markets have been instrumental in keeping them afloat during these tough times.

You can find Fluwelling at the Hobe Sound Farmers Market every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 425 Southeast Bridge Road in Hobe Sound.

You'll find Brown at the Fort Pierce Green Market every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 101 Melody Lane in Fort Pierce.