Dusseldorf The worried look of the farmers goes up and then down these days. For several weeks there have been hardly any rain clouds in the sky, which means that the ground is becoming increasingly dry. Memories come back to the years 2018 and 2019, when it was raining too little and the harvest of cereals and rapeseed was far below average. Now there is growing fear that it could happen in 2020.
“If it stays that dry, it could be another very difficult year for German agriculture,” says Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers’ Association. “A third year of drought would hit many of our farms even harder than the last.”
2020 hadn’t started badly. “From January to mid-March we had even more rain than usual,” says farmer Till Bredtmann, who runs a farm in Velbert in North Rhine-Westphalia, “but it has been dry since March 16”. According to calculations by the German Weather Service (DWD), less than ten liters per square meter of precipitation fell from March 14 to April 18 in many places.
Tobias Fuchs from the DWD told the Tagesschau that only about ten percent of the normal rainfall fell in April. In addition, the floors were also dried out by the strong wind.
This brings back memories of the past problem years. However, the water reservoirs in the soil were well filled last winter, the DWD says. Farmer Bredtmann also says: “I don’t see any catastrophe yet, but if it stays dry longer, it will be difficult”. The next few weeks are crucial for whether the drought will become a tangible problem, the experts agree.
It is not so easy to answer whom the weather affects and to what extent. The basic nature and water retention of the soil play a major role in the resilience of the cultivation. Another key question is which products are sown and harvested. For example, grasses for fodder cultivation are very susceptible to prolonged drought.
During the 2018 drought, it became clear that cereals and rapeseed suffered significantly, while asparagus harvests were stable and fruit was even better than average.
Demanding more commitment to climate protection
Nevertheless, the current dry weather reflexively raises two questions. First, is there another year of drought in 2020? The honest answer is: Nobody can say that exactly. The DWD writes on its homepage: “It is not yet possible to assess whether May will bring more precipitation after what is likely to be a very dry April.” To be prepared in an emergency, farmers can take out drought insurance, the value added tax of which has been reduced retrospectively from January 1, 2020 from 19 to 0.3 percent of the sum insured.
The second question is: Are the dry periods a sign of climate change? A clear answer is not possible here either. Climate change makes extreme weather conditions more likely, according to the DWD. However, it is difficult to prove whether a specific event can be attributed to this. Farmer Bredtmann states: “There has been a lot of dry summer in April and May in recent years”
German farmers are concerned about drought
The farmers’ association and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture still agree that again more needs to be done for climate protection. Farmer President Rukwied says: “As farmers, we are increasingly dealing with extreme weather conditions. It would be unwise to put climate protection on the back burner, even if the focus is now on dealing with the corona pandemic “.
It is clear that agriculture itself also has a role to play. The ministry speaks of the farmers as “victims and participants” of the climate crisis and refers to a ten-point plan to combat the problem with measures to reduce CO2. The reform of EU agricultural subsidies should also have the right steering effect towards more environmentally sustainable agriculture. An agreement in Brussels on how this could look exactly is far from in sight.
Farmer Till Bredtmann, who has been practicing organic farming for 35 years, draws attention to another problem: “Consumers demand this, but in practice it looks different, because most people just want the cheapest possible food.”
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