Rising Temperatures Due to Climate Change Intensify Struggles for Agricultural Laborers

by Ryan Lee
Climate Change Impact on Farmworkers

At just 9 years old, Mily Trevino-Sauceda witnessed her mother collapse while shifting irrigation pipes across a farm in Idaho. Her elder brother attempted to revive their mother with splashes of water as Mily and her siblings looked on, terrified and teary-eyed. The heat had caused her mother to faint, diminishing her ability to work as effectively under the sun.

Years later, Trevino-Sauceda, who currently serves as the executive director of Alianza de Campesinas, a California-based organization for female farm workers, vividly recalls the incident. She argues that insufficient measures have been taken to protect agricultural laborers from extreme heat.

“Seeing that this still occurs, it upsets me,” Trevino-Sauceda explains. “It’s upsetting because we understand the nature of this work. Despite our commitment to delivering quality work, we often overlook whether we’re being treated as humans. We’re merely trying to endure it.”

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In light of recent unprecedented global heat records, the ongoing threat of climate change, which intensifies heat risks for outdoor laborers, including farm workers, is underscored. Heat advisories have been issued throughout the U.S., with farm regions in Oregon, Texas, and much of the southern and central parts of the country projected to experience temperatures nearing 100 degrees next week.

The National Institutes of Health reports that agricultural laborers face a risk of heat-related death 35 times greater than workers in other sectors. Despite this, there is no federal standard to protect their health and safety in extreme heat.

California is among a small number of states that have established their own standards. These include access to cool water and shade and monitoring of workers for health risks in temperatures above 95 degrees, as outlined by the United Farm Workers Foundation.

Edgar Franks, like Trevino-Sauceda, shares memories of discomfort and intense heat while working in farms in Texas and later in Washington state. Currently, Franks is still involved in Washington berry fields but also serves as the political director for the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia. He recollects a 2017 strike organized by farmworkers protesting against poor working conditions, which included oppressive heat and smoke from Canadian wildfires.

Farm work presents unique dangers under extreme heat due to the physical exertion required, which raises the body’s internal temperature in already hot and humid conditions, explains Dr. Jonathan Patz, chair of health and the environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pedro Murrieta Baltazar, an employee at Way Farms in Waverly, Ohio, shares that the heat this year feels less intense than previous years. Nonetheless, the farm implements precautions, like adjusting work areas based on shade availability.

Roxana Chicas, an assistant professor in the nursing school at Emory University in Atlanta, describes the heat effects on farmworkers as experiencing fever symptoms without an infection.

Agricultural practices contributing to climate change further complicate the situation for farmworkers. Both Patz and Franks urge for sustainable changes in agriculture, such as reducing meat consumption in Western diets, and adopting farming methods that utilize less water and fertilizer while sequestering more carbon.

Franks optimistically adds, “Exploring methods to practice more sustainable, regenerative agriculture that benefits both the climate and the workers, I believe, is achievable.”

Follow Melina Walling on Twitter @MelinaWalling.

Big Big News’ environmental and climate coverage is supported by several private foundations. Further information about AP’s climate initiative is available here. AP holds sole responsibility for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Climate Change Impact on Farmworkers

What is the main issue farmworkers face due to climate change?

The main issue farmworkers face due to climate change is exposure to extreme heat. This increases the risk of health complications, including heatstroke and dehydration.

Who is Mily Trevino-Sauceda and what is her role in the article?

Mily Trevino-Sauceda is the executive director of Alianza de Campesinas, a California-based organization for female farm workers. In the article, she shares her personal experiences and advocates for better protection measures for farmworkers in extreme heat conditions.

Are there any federal heat standards that ensure the health and safety of farmworkers?

As of the time of writing, there is no federal heat standard that ensures the health and safety of farmworkers. Only a few states, like California, have adopted their own standards.

How much more likely are farm workers to die of heat exposure compared to other industries?

According to the National Institutes of Health, farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die of heat exposure than workers in other industries.

What kind of sustainable changes in agriculture are proposed in the article?

The article suggests adopting farming methods that use less water and fertilizer while storing more carbon. It also emphasizes the need to reduce meat consumption in Western diets as part of a more sustainable approach to agriculture.

More about Climate Change Impact on Farmworkers

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Liz_M July 8, 2023 - 11:05 am

i’ve worked on a farm before…it’s hard work. and in that heat?? i cant even imagine. Its really scary, something needs to be done.

NatureLover89 July 8, 2023 - 2:26 pm

Reading this makes me sad…we gotta do something fast or else it’s gonna get real bad, real quick. How can we help farmworkers? any ideas?

James432 July 8, 2023 - 11:38 pm

This is really serious stuff. why is there no federal heat standard? Can’t believe farmworkers still treated like this. Climate change ain’t a joke people!

JohnFarm July 9, 2023 - 2:19 am

As a farmer, i can say this is true. Heat can be brutal. need more protections, for sure. And gotta make farming more sustainable, that’s the way to go.

ClimateWarrior July 9, 2023 - 4:58 am

Great article. Its about time these issues got more attention. Climate change is affecting us all, but some are bearing the brunt of it more than others. Wake up world!!


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