Drought: the big concern


After a dry winter, the heat wave and the water deficit that France is currently experiencing raise fears of difficult agricultural yields, or even an umpteenth rise in prices.

Fifteen. This is the number of departments having already exceeded, at the beginning of May, the drought alert threshold, while a heat wave is currently hitting France.remarkable for its earliness, durability and geographical extent“, notes Meteo France. And for good reason: up to more than 30°C are expected in the South-East this week, exceeding the seasonal averages by 3 to 8°C, according to our partner La Chaîne Météo*.

Thus, certain areas of Maine-et-Loire, Loiret, Ille-et-Vilaine, Haute-Savoie, Vienne, Vendée, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Ain, Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Vaucluse are now subject to various restrictions, ranging from a ban on watering gardens or fields to certain hours, to the total ban on water withdrawals for washing cars or watering green spaces, as indicated by the government agency Propluvia.

The map of the departments subject to vigilance. In grey, areas with no restrictions but with incentives to save water. In yellow, the “alert” zones. In orange, the areas in “enhanced alert”. Propluvia.

In question? Very meager rains for many months, due to a “succession of anticyclonic periods», says the hydrologist Emma Haziza to the Figaro. They thus caused, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, a rainfall deficit estimated at 19% between September 2021 and April 2022.recharge“, the rains are supposed to supply water to the water tables, located at depth, so that they can be drawn in summer. But the low rainfall logically led to a 20% recharge deficit, mainly in the Grand-Est, in the north of New Aquitaine and the whole of the South-East, again according to the executive, meeting Monday with water agencies and professionals from the agricultural world.

Up to 40% yield loss»

Such a level of dryness is abnormal for the beginning of May“, worries with the Figaro Serge Zaka, agroclimatologist for the forecasting and agricultural advice company ITK. “Especially since the alerts only concern deep water. It would also be necessary to take into account the agricultural soils, on the surface, which are very dry.“. The researcher affirms that this beginning of May is the closest to the drought records observed, over the same period, in 1959, 1976 and 2011.

This will be a problem for the main wheat production basins“, he argues. Wheat cultivation reaches a pivotal phase between April and June: it is the bolting phase, during which the plant particularly needs water to bring out its grains. “According to initial estimates, we already have between 5 and 10% yield loss for the shallowest soils. By the end of May, if it does not rain, losses could be up to 40%“, decides the specialist in modeling. All spring crops (sunflower, corn, etc.) currently sown will also be impacted, as well as grassland production, with the fodder to be given to livestock.

On the ground, concern is mounting. “In my crops, we already have cracks in the clay soils. In terms of forage, we harvested between 30 and 40% less alfalfa and grass. And they announce heat waves in the weeks to come…“, laments to the Figaro Luc Smessaert, farmer and breeder in Roy-Boissy in the Oise. It fears, logically, a significant evapotranspiration: the hotter it is, the more the water stored in the plant evaporates. Rainfall is expected to be scanty until at least May 17, but “in any case, any rains in late May-early June will not recharge the water tables“Warns Emma Haziza.

No region is spared. Every day that passes, we see soils cracking. I was with a farmer in Puy-de-Dôme, he waters his wheat. If it continues like this, those who have the possibility to irrigate will get by, the others will have dramatic yield reductions.“, declared Christiane Lambert, president of the majority agricultural union, the FNSEA. In France, only 5% of agricultural land is irrigated. Rain is therefore essential for the vast majority of farmers.

Possible price increases that the executive hopes to thwart

What to fear price increases, or even shortages? “We’re not there yet, we have to be reasonable, reassures Luc Smessaert. But in three weeks, the question may arise.“Still, the farmers”were hoping for a lot from the year. And with this looming drought, anger is mounting. For years, farmers have wanted to develop water storage, so that they can use it when needed. But nothing is done despite the promises of successive governments“, insists the farmer. The executive however announced at the end of April that the water agencies could spend an additional 100 million euros to help the agricultural sectors create water reservoirs – a measure contested by ecological associations and certain peasant unions.

These possible rising prices, while the war in Ukraine has already caused prices to explode, the government absolutely wants to avoid them. The Ministry of Ecological Transition announced new measures on Monday. The counter opened in April to help farmers cope with climate change, initially endowed with 20 million euros to buy irrigation equipment, will thus be topped up.an additional 20 million“.

In any case, Luc Smessaert, Emma Haziza and Serge Zaka agree in calling for a rethinking of agricultural water management: by creating “water reserves» for the first, in «restoring soils and redeveloping wetlands» for the second, or in «planting new species, such as sorghum stronger than maizefacing the drought for the third. “It is only by combining all these solutions that we will be able to fight against climate change.“, finally assures Serge Zaka.

*The Weather Channel is a property of the group Figaro.

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