NEWS

Agricultural produce latest to fall victim to climate change

Farmers who sowed wheat in October are praying for rain soon so their crops won’t be completely destroyed. Others who waited until the December rains to plant crops were sorely disappointed. Meanwhile, citrus farmers have already had their hopes of no frost dashed with the plunge in temperatures this weekend. Olive farmers are thanking their lucky stars for the sunshine that helped them to bring in the autumn crop. But those planning to plant corn and cotton in April know they will be facing serious water shortages. And all are hoping the experts will be proved wrong and that the climate is not really changing. The fate of farm produce in southern Europe, summer and winter, depends on the weather conditions that are to prevail over the next two weeks. The sudden drop in temperatures without any forecast of precipitation by the weathermen leaves no room for optimism and forecasts for farming production in Greece and the rest of Europe over the next few decades are not positive. «What is to happen to Greek farming produce will depend on the way weather conditions develop over the next few weeks,» said Professor Dimitris Lalas. «No matter what forecast we make at the moment, we could be off by up to 50 percent,» he added. A group of scientists, of which Lalas is one, has carried out a survey on the effect of climate change in Greece, particularly in the cultivation of wheat and corn. According to the results of the survey, over the next few decades, nothing will ever be the same for farming in Greece as we know it. If cornfields under cultivation remain at current levels (the most optimistic forecast is for an average maximum temperature for Athens in July from 29 Celsius up to 33 Celsius), over the next 50 years corn production will decline by up to 40 percent. According to the worst-case scenario, the average maximum temperature in Athens rising to 41 degrees Celsius, then the production decrease could be as much as 55 percent. According to Lalas, the situation regarding wheat cultivation is more complicated, since in some areas production is expected to decline by 65 percent and others to rise by as much. «These differences are mainly due to the kind of soil in the various regions. For example, it is very important to look at whether temperatures will be low or high during the crop’s growing period,» he explained. In response to whether that means that traditional southern European crops will be grown further north, Lalas explained: «Things aren’t that simple. Northern countries will have warmer temperatures but also more rain and I don’t know whether olive trees will like that.» The Russians might say they would like warmer weather, but according to Lalas, the Russian breadbasket will be affected by flooding, with incalculable consequences for the industry. These are not science-fiction scenarios, as even the most cynical are coming to realize. This year farmers in southern Europe, including Greece, will have to deal with an extreme summer climate and an uncertain present. Apricot trees have sprouted new branches, cherry trees have blossomed, citrus trees have flowered again and deciduous trees such as peach, apple and pear trees have been fooled by the recent sunny weather and high temperatures and have already begun sprouting buds. «The situation is very serious. Trees that should be dormant are in sap,» said Anastassios Anastasakos, the head of the evaluation and compensation department at Greek Agricultural Compensation Fund (ELGA), who fears that payouts will have to be made in the summer for the first time ever. «The plants have been fooled into expending energy for no reason,» said citrus farmer Yiannis Melos from Troezen. Farmers are hoping it will rain soon so they will be able to plant their spring crops in time to harvest for Easter. Water, or rather the lack of it, is the main problem and will continue to be over the summer. Already wheat has yellowed from the lack of rain and farmers are fearing a disaster. Water levels in the two reservoirs in Thessaly are down and the lack of rain, and particularly snow, forecasts a dry summer. Already there is debate as to whether to plant cotton and corn, crops that need a large amount of water, in April. The next few days will be critical and everyone is hoping for wet, but not very cold, weather. A gradual reduction in the temperature to normal levels for the time of year is what is needed. «If it doesn’t rain soon, things will be very serious,» said Giorgos Georgakopoulos, of the Ministry for Agricultural Development and Food.