The Heat Is Online

Spanish Agriculture Hit by Worst Drought in 50 years

Spain has lowest rains for 50 years, hurts farming

Story by David Brough

Reuters News Service, June 18, 1999

LISBON - Spain has recorded its lowest rainfall in 50 years, devastating arable, sugar beet and livestock farming.

A chart by the Spanish Environment Ministry, made available to Reuters on Thursday, showed that average rainfall in Spain in the period from October 1 1998 to May 31 this year stood at just 370 mm, the lowest level since 1949. Average rainfall was about 650 mm in the same period a year ago.

The prolonged drought since last autumn forced the Spanish government to unveil a package of measures last week worth more than 30 billion pesetas ($189 million) to help farmers whose arable and sugar beet production has plunged. The dry weather has also damaged pastures, complicating cattle feeding.

"In most of mainland Spain, the year may be considered dry or very dry, especially the regions of Andalusia (south), Castilla-La Mancha (central-south) and Extremadura (west), where accumulated rainfall is below half of normal levels," the Environment Ministry said in a statement. "In the Balearic and Canary Islands rainfall is well below normal," it added.

During the spring, temperatures have been generally above normal, the ministry said. "In some areas of Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha, the average temperatures of the last three months have been more than two degrees Celsius above normal."

Augustin Palomino, spokesman for Spain's Young Farmers' Association (ASAJA), said the lack of rains had severely disrupted arable and cattle farming and could interfere with irrigated crops such as maize if river levels fall much further.

He criticised the government for not doing enough to help farmers. "The government's aid package is insufficient. Farmers' losses are too great," he told Reuters.

The government has offered four billion pesetas in direct aid and 27 billion pesetas in low-interest loans to farmers.

Spanish grain shippers said they had bought Portuguese wheat from the main growing region of the Alentejo in recent weeks to compensate for the poor harvest expected in the south of Spain.

Earlier this month, the Madrid-based Spanish Association of Cereals and Oilseeds Merchants said it expected durum wheat production to drop 37 percent year-on-year to 813,252 tonnes in 1999/2000 and barley production to drop 11 percent to 9,653,358 tonnes because of the drought. Some analysts have made even more dire forecasts.

The National Beet Growers Federation has said Spain's summer sugar beet crop will fall to around 2.0 million tonnes, against initial forecasts of 3.5 million tonnes, due to the dry weather.

Last month the annual procession for the "Virgin of the Rain" in a village in Castilla y Leon in north-central Spain attracted thousands of people who walked the 17 km (10 miles) to the church of Astorga to pray for an end to the drought.

Taking a more direct approach, Environment Minister Isabel Tocino has appeared on television several times to urge Spaniards to use water more efficiently.

Reuters News Service