The Heat Is Online

European Farmers Struggle with Pervasive Drought

Europe Prays for Rain as Drought Worsens

Financial Times, June 8, 2011

Europe is in the grip of a new north-south divide. Yet this time the gap is not about economic competitiveness but rainfall, and it is the north, not the south, that is lagging behind.

While southern Europe experienced a rather damp spring, much of northern Europe is in the midst of a drought.

In France, the months of March and May were the hottest for more than a century, while England and Wales had their second-driest spring since 1910. Between January and April, “severe” rain deficits were recorded in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Hungary and Austria, according to the European Commission.

Recent storms in some parts of Europe have done little to refill heavily depleted water tables.

The drought’s impact is broad-based, ranging from shipping companies to vintners, energy producers to farmers.

Nicolas Mousnier, who took over his parents’ sheep farm in the Limousin region of central France nine years ago, is keeping 60 per cent of his 1,000-strong flock in pens. Normally they would be out in the fields grazing, but there is not enough grass. Buying the hay to feed them now and in the winter will push up his costs by €20,000-€25,000 ($29,000-$36,000) this year.

“I will use all my revenue this year to feed my animals,” he says. “Practically everyone across the country is affected by this.”

It is France’s worst drought in more than 30 years, according to Bruno Le Maire, agriculture minister, with rainfall at barely 45 per cent of the average between 1971 and 2000. Restrictions on water use are already in place in nearly two-thirds of France’s 96 mainland “departments”. Nicolas Sarkozy, president, is expected to announce aid measures for farmers on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in the Danube river – one of Europe’s most important waterways – the volume of water dropped to a 100-year low in May.