European farmers suffer extreme drought

Arable crop yields have been hit the hardest with latest estimates suggesting Germany’s wheat crop may fall 6.5 percent

European farmers are suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades.

With temperatures exceeding 30 C and no rain falling for more than a month, livestock, crops and grass are withering.

The combines are in the fields earlier than normal, but that is not such a good sign considering yields are well below normal and in some cases are less than half of what they should be.

Nordic countries including Sweden, Finland and Norway have experienced high temperatures with crop yields gradually diminishing.

Farther west, the normally lush green fields of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have wilted to brown with water levels so low the governments were forced to ban the use of watering hoses for a few weeks.

Lithuania and Latvia declared states of emergency as other countries battled numerous wildfires in forests, grassland and arable crops. News of farm machinery going up in smoke during harvest operations has also been widely reported.

Arable crop yields have been hit the hardest with latest estimates suggesting Germany’s 2018 wheat crop may fall by 6.5 percent to 22.89 million tonnes.

In Poland, the wheat crop is expected to fall 6.7 percent from last year’s harvest to 10.9 million tonnes. In Lithuania, the harvest could fall to 3.2 million tonnes from 3.8 million last year while Sweden’s wheat harvest is expected to fall by 15 to 20 percent from 2.46 million tonnes.

Lennart Nilsson, co-chair of the Swedish Farmers Association, said it was the worst drought he had ever personally experienced.

“This is really serious. Most of southwest Sweden hasn’t had rain since the first days of May” he said. “A very early harvest has started but yields seem to be the lowest for 25 years, 50 percent lower, or more in some cases, and it is causing severe losses.”

Farmers in the Netherlands are also suffering from weeks of high temperatures destroying crops.

Even in this country with so many waterways, dikes and the sea, farmers cannot afford the irrigation costs, with some saying it would be a waste of money.

Dairy farmer Sicco Hylkema, who farms near Westhem in the Friesland province of the Netherlands beside a lake, said there was no point in irrigating.

“The ground is so hard right now any water we spray onto the grass will simply run off into the dikes. It would be a huge waste of money on diesel to irrigate the lands,” he said.

“Some people are comparing this drought to the one in 1976 but it’s my first time farming in such a lack of rain. We just have to wait for rain,” he added.

Vegetable farmers in the Netherlands are continuing to irrigate to salvage any yield to help pay the bills.

“We just cannot let the crops go to waste,” said vegetable farmer Thijs Geerse, who runs an organic farm in the Zeewolde region. “We are around five metres under sea level here and usually have a moist two-metre-deep soil but even that is cracking up right now.”

Niels Lindberg Madsen, head of EU policy at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, called it the most severe drought his country had seen in 50 or 60 years.

The European Drought Observatory (EDO) has described the drought as “an extensive and severe anomaly” affecting Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, the Baltics, the Netherlands and northern Germany.

A spokesperson for the EU’s Joint Research Centre, which oversees the EDO, said farmers should prepare to adapt to a warmer climate with “diversification or change of crop types and varieties, but also a more efficient use of water.”

Some countries have asked the European Commission for assistance with the drought related problems.

As a response, the commission decided to temporarily exempt eight countries, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal, from an EU environmental requirement aimed at promoting biodiversity, which obliges farmers to leave part of their land fallow.

This means farmers in those countries can use this non-producing land to grow food for their livestock until the drought ends.

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