Wildfire smoke: how it affects wine and weed industries

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore.– The unwelcome smoke in southern Oregon is bad for business and it could even have negative effects on the crops.

Different industries have different takes on what the smoke will do with some saying it’s too early to tell while others saying things are good right now. All agree though if the smoke continues to choke the valley, there could be problems.

At Alter Farms, near Merlin, plumes of smoke can be seen rising just over the hill where the Taylor Creek Fire has continued to burn. Being so close to the fire, the farm and it’s employees have dealt with many days of heavy smoke.

“The smoke is not easy to breathe in so we provide everybody with masks and shorter days so they don’t have to be subjected to the bad air quality as much,” said Cody Alter, owner. “So it’s slowing down the progress we would have on the farm unfortunately.”

While production might be slower Alter says for the plants, the smoke isn’t bad.

“We still have brighter light currently than you would in an indoor grow room so the light levels are not bad for the plants and with our smaller, later plantings,” he said. “They’re actually enjoying the overcast.”

Further away in the Applegate Valley, smoke still hangs in the air but it’s not quite as thick.

“Certainly this is one of the earliest years we’ve ever seen,” said Greg Paneitz, owner of Woodridge Creek Winery.

It may not be bad on the Tuesday morning Paneitz met with NBC5 News but there are days where it can be. How the grapes fare through it all is the question though.

“You know the jury is still out as far as whether it will affect the grapes,” said Paneitz. “It’s not particular good for business as people don’t want to be out and about while there is smoke out there.”

The winery holds several events including weekly music sessions for guests to enjoy. Those are usually held outside but with the early smoke this year it’s been hard to have as many. But the winery has been able to make the best of the situation so far by adapting and spending less time outside.

“We had some folks from the Britt orchestra here over the weekend and you know what, I think a lot of people decided to do is maybe if it’s gonna be three hours outside, lets do two or one,” he said. “Lets limit the exposure rather than canceling entirely.”

In the long term however, if the smoke doesn’t clear, it could hurt each businesses product, more than it’s productivity.

“I really don’t think it’s going to affect production really in any measurable way,” said Alter. “The only scary thing is if these wildfires persist and we have a heavy blanketing of ash on older mature flowers.”

Alter says the heavier the ash on the plants the less light they get for growing and the impacts can also degrade the quality of their product when it comes time to harvest.

For now, farmers are taking it a day at a time and trying their best to make do with the current situation.

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