Unprecedented droughts cause pain for farmers across Europe

19.07.2022 893 views

Farmers across much of Europe are feeling the effects of heatwaves and drought.

EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič recently warned, “the present drought in Europe could become the worst ever”.

Despite measures to boost domestic production, overall EU cereal production is expected to be 2.5% lower this year than in 2021, due to extreme weather conditions such as increased heat and decreased rainfall.

This puts at risk the attempts in Europe to cushion the impact on world markets of the expected lack of grain exports from Ukraine.

In just a few months the EU Commission has cut its forecast for total cereal production from 293.3m tonnes to 286.4m tonnes.

The estimate of EU cereal exports has been cut from 41.4m to 33.5m tonnes, only partially offsetting the drop in global cereal availability due to blockage of Ukrainian sea ports, and grain export restrictions by some exporters.

Soft wheat production in France is expected to be down 7% from last year, and 6% below the five-year average.

This lack of supply will lift prices in the EU grain market.

With dry weather also hampering wheat crops in Argentina, wheat future prices recently rebounded 4.4% week-on-week, despite expectations of a record-sized large Russian crop. 

But some importing countries may prefer more trustworthy sources.

Promising wheat harvests in the US and Australia also helped calm fears of a severe shortage (both are in the top four of wheat exporters). And rumours of a Ukrainian export deal also calmed grain markets.

France is the third largest exporter after the US and Russia. But spring rainfall in France was 45% lower than normal. And the French Public Water Information Service said May was the driest month in France since 1959. May also broke France's high-temperature record.

By June, 9% of rivers had dried up, compared with 2% a year earlier.

Now, up to 40% yield loss is feared in the worst-affected grain crops.

Spain, the third-largest agricultural producer in the EU, is also suffering.

Spain's reservoirs at 46% capacity

Huge amounts of water are used for agriculture, but Spain entered the summer with reservoirs at just 46% capacity, 20% below the past decade's average.

Last month was the third-warmest June in the EU since weather recordings began. The average temperature was 0.31°C above the 1991 to 2020 average.

Lifting the figures was a brutal heatwave in Italy, accompanied by the worst drought in several decades.

Italian farmers say the drought has caused €3bn of crop damage, with yields for maize and wheat down 30%.

The north is worst affected; the government recently declared a state of emergency in five northern regions after water levels in the Po, the biggest freshwater resource in Italy, fell by three-quarters. As rivers dried up, seawater flowed inland, interfering greatly with the much-needed irrigation of crops.

Northern Italy has 30% of Italy’s agricultural output.

German harvest 3% lower

In Germany also, farmers predict a heavy drought toll on crops, resulting in a 3% lower harvest than last year. Eastern Germany is the worst hit, with farmers in the state of Brandenburg warning wheat yields will fall by between 7% and 23%.

In Portugal, severe drought prevailed in 97% of the country by the end of May.

The grain harvest is already over in Serbia, and a 30% yield loss in the Balkan country has been blamed on drought.

Extreme weather is leaving most Europeans in no doubt that climate action and adaptation must be taken seriously.

The most dramatic evidence of climate change came in Italy on July 2, when part of the Marmolada Glacier in the Dolomite mountains collapsed, killing at least 11 climbers.

Other Italian alpine glaciers are vulnerable to collapse. Scientists say half the glacial ice in the European Alps will melt, no matter what the world does to slow global warming by limiting carbon emissions.

With a heatwave pushing temperatures into the mid-40s in some countries, hundreds were evacuated from their homes as wildfires blazed in France, Spain and Portugal.

Red warning for England

Officials have issued heatwave health warnings, including a first-ever red extreme heat warning for parts of England early this week.

Weather experts say the number of heatwaves in Europe has increased three-to-four times faster than in the rest of the northern mid-latitudes, due in large part to the jet-stream air current splitting for longer periods.

“Europe is very much affected by changes in atmospheric circulation,” co-author Kai Kornhuber, a climate scientist at Columbia University, told Reuters. It’s a heatwave hotspot.”

The EU Commission's Maroš Šefčovič said: “Forests must be made fire-resistant, farming must become more resilient to water shortages and flooding, and cities must be better designed."

Source - https://www.irishexaminer.com

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