“This is the first year that I have been watering my wheat”

A wheat field operated by Denis Asseray, in Gennes-Val-de-Loire, on May 12, 2022. Like a quarter of its wheat production, this field is exceptionally irrigated due to the current drought, caused by a lack of rain during the recharge season (winter) and since the beginning of April.

About twenty kilometers south of Angers (Maine-et-Loire), along the departmental road which sinks into the lands of Anjou, the blades of grass on the edges of the road are short. Not that they’ve been mowed recently, but the spring sun has already scorched a lot of them. The wheat of Denis Asseray, a 57-year-old farmer from Angevin, is having just as much trouble prospering.

At the very end of a sand and gravel path, the Domaine de La Bruyère, located in the commune of Gennes-Val-de-Loire, extends over 220 hectares of vines and cereals – from wheat and corn to equal parts. In the shade of the barn housing about fifty dairy cows, an imposing blue reel, at the end of which a cannon throws water in a fine rain, ends its watering tour.

“This is the first year that I have been watering my wheat”, explains the farmer, installed since 1990. The ears are still short, barely formed, and some are already turning white, a sign of intense drought. Further, squares of ground are even so dry that they are “already blue”. Located at the edge of the plot or on non-irrigable parts of land, not all benefit from artificial watering. “Here, the grain is not even fertilized”, explains the operator, crumbling a whitish ear. The current lack of water is all the more problematic as the development of wheat reaches, at this time of year, its crucial phase of grain growth, which requires a significant water supply.

Denis Asseray, farmer, in Gennes-Val-de-Loire, May 12, 2022. He controls on an application the probes implanted on some of his plots.  The green zone corresponds to the easily usable reserve (RFU).  This is the comfort zone for the plant.  In blue, water saturation.  In red, the crop is suffering and requires watering. Denis Asseray, farmer, in Gennes-Val-de-Loire, May 12, 2022. He controls on an application the probes implanted on some of his plots.  The green zone corresponds to the easily usable reserve (RFU).  This is the comfort zone for the plant.  In blue, water saturation.  In red, the crop is suffering and requires watering.

Since the beginning of January, a little less than 135 millimeters of precipitation have been recorded over the whole of the department, against 250 millimeters on average. And since the beginning of April, less than 45 millimeters, instead of 80, according to figures from Météo-France. The high temperatures of recent days, occasionally flirting with 25°C, have not helped. In mid-May, the drought reached Maine-et-Loire, like what is happening in part of France.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Climate: France affected by early heat and a water deficit

“Sprinkle all you can”

Denis Asseray ne se “I remember.”[t] not of such a dry spring so soon”. The period from January to April is indeed the driest recorded in the department since 1991, confirms Lionel Salvayre, territorial referent of Météo-France in the Pays de la Loire region. In previous years, these heat waves only occurred in the department just before summer, at the end of May or the beginning of June.

Thierry Chaillou, farmer in Brissac-Loire-Aubance, in front of his water supply, May 12, 2022. Thierry Chaillou, farmer in Brissac-Loire-Aubance, in front of his water supply, May 12, 2022.

Some five kilometers further west, in Brissac-Loire-Aubance, the cultures of Thierry Chaillou, 56, are also suffering. At the heart of his 460-hectare farm, the earth from his corn plots slips through his fingers like sand. But the situation is less problematic than for wheat, he explains, because the corn has just been sown and still has enough time to make up for its lack of water.

You have 51.86% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.