"Winter drought destroys Portuguese cereal crops"
LISBON, Portugal -April 29, 1997 --(Reuter) - One of the worst winter droughts in the last 150 years has destroyed an estimated 50 to 70 percent of Portugal's winter cereal crops, an Agriculture Ministry official said.
Deputy Secretary of State for Agriculture Carlos Cunha said that rain last week in Portugal's southern cereal-producing Alentejo region might save pasture but not winter cereal crops, predominantly wheat.
In 1996 Portugal produced around 415,000 metric tons of wheat, up from 360,000 metric tons the previous year.
Irrigated spring and summer cereals have not been affected by the drought because dams are full.
``Even if it rains from now until the end of May it won't save winter crops. It's too late,'' Cunha told Reuters. ``There was no rain in February and March when it was needed and temperatures have been five degrees above average for this time of year.''
The forecast for this week is for more dry weather and temperatures of around 25 degrees centigrade.
Cunha said the Portuguese government was considering whether to disburse money from the so-called ``calamities fund'' to help farmers in some parts of the Alentejo.
He said Portugal would ask the European Union for financial and technical help in tackling the effects of the drought.