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Farmers Face the Perfect Storm as Drought Hits

This summer has been one of the warmest and most trying for farmers across Europe, as the worst drought in nearly 500 years remains severe in many countries.

In the most recent European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) report, “Drought in Europe, August 2022,” experts state that 47% of the EU remains under warning conditions and 17% is in alert.

“The combination of a severe drought and heatwaves has created an unprecedented stress on water levels in the entire EU. We are currently noticing a wildfires season sensibly above the average and an important impact on crops production,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth in a release.

Effects on Yield

The August report forecast for grain maize, soybean and sunflower yields each fell below the five-year average at 16%, 15% and 12% respectively.

Farmers across the EU have felt the devastating impacts, with Spain ringing in as one of the most greatly affected, along with France, central and northern Italy, central Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Croatia. The extreme heat and water stress period overlapped with the flowering stage and grain filling in these countries, resulting in irreversible yield loss potential, shared the JRC “Crop Monitoring in Europe August 2022” report.

We are currently observing very low yields in rainfed crops, with cereal production falling by more than 30%. Also in oilseeds, the surface area increased in Spain by more than 30%, but total production will fall by more than 20%,” says Pedro Gallardo, Spanish farmer and former vice president of COPA-COGECA, in an interview with European Seed. “As far as irrigated crops are concerned, it should be noted that the production costs of electricity and water have had a very negative impact, together with a reduction in the availability of water which farmers have suffered.

“Therefore, we can say that the perfect storm is taking place, production cut by between 30% and 50%, production costs in many of the inputs have multiplied by between 100% and 300% and to all this is added a drought that will mean a cut in income for farmers.”

While certain crops have been hit more heavily, such as cereal and sunflower, no crop was left unharmed by the intense drought, according to Gallardo. This is partly due to the increasing lack of water supplies. The severe precipitation deficit has hit the energy sector for hydropower generation and cooling systems.

“In general, there are no crops that are less affected. If we had enough water, we could say that irrigation would suffer less, but irrigation has increased production costs due to electricity and the cost of water itself, and farmers have also seen how the administration has cut their annual water allocation,” he explains.

In some regions, including central Spain, irrigation of certain fields was abandoned due to extremely low water levels that were unable to reach the water needs for crops.

Who Will Help Farmers in Their Time of Need?

“Climate change is undoubtedly more noticeable every year; the European Commission and its scientists are working tirelessly to map and study this crisis with the best technology available, from the space and on the ground, and are leading the efforts to protect our environment and our citizens from emergencies,” said Gabriel.

Despite all hands-on deck from experts to predict the full impacts of the drought and water shortages, some farmers have been left to their own devices to salvage what is left of their crop from this season.

“So far, we have had no extraordinary aid for this complex year. That is why we demand direct aid to compensate for the lack of income of farmers and livestock farmers, but direct aid that comes into the pocket of the farmer or livestock farmer. Many people forget that the countryside produces food for us to eat three times a day. Many only set foot in the countryside during election periods, and many are forgetting that not having a productive agriculture will mean being in the hands of third countries in the future. We should not play with food,” Gallardo concludes.

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Drought is Coming, Suck it Up!